Unlike most birthdays you’ll plan or celebrate in your life, 18th birthday decorations are perhaps the most unique of all.
Why is that? Because turning 18, and being 18, is all about “cool.” And like it or not, birthday parties are not considered cool to the average 18-year-old.
Birthday decorations for kids or other milestones are pretty simple and fun to do.
You’re encouraged to go all out and buy all sorts of decorations that proudly celebrate whatever the occasion may be.
But for the almighty 18th birthday, subtlety rules. The teenage birthday boy or birthday girl might associate typical birthday parties with little kids, and that’s not cool.
The age of 18 is about being an adult and leaving behind the childish trappings of yesteryear.
This same person may have loved birthday parties as a kid, but he/she is not a kid anymore. And it’s important to recognize and respect that.
However, that does not mean you should ignore 18th birthday decorations altogether. You just need to tweak them so that they’re “cool,” and that often means disguising them so that they’re not really birthday decorations.
Bye Bye, Mom and Dad
If you’re a parent and you’re the one planning the 18th birthday party, then I have some bad news for you. If you want the party to be fun, then don’t show up. Please don’t take that the wrong way, and please don’t be hurt if your 18-year-old wants you gone.
You see, being 18 is about being an adult, and you can’t feel like an adult if Mommy, Daddy, Grandpa, Grandma, Auntie Martha and Uncle John are there. To a kid who is 18, all of you are automatically uncool. It’s a phase and they’ll grow out of it, but for now, get out of the way.
This is where parents often feel like they’re being used, and that’s because they are. In the eyes of an 18-year-old, the parents’ job is to leave the birthday planning to the kid (I mean, adult), go away, and foot the bill.
You’re like a phantom investor who is invisible, but visible enough to pay for the party.
Please don’t take it personally. It’s part of growing up, and you were likely the same way when you were 18. Let them have their moment, and don’t get in the way.
On the small chance the 18-year-old wants you there for the birthday party, go ahead and ask him/her what role you’re needed for. If the kid wants you to plan and participate, then great. Unlikely, but great.
More often than not, though, they’ll just want to go somewhere with their friends and ask you to pay for it. And that’s fine, too.
But even if they don’t want you there, you can still take part in the planning and offer up a few 18th birthday decorations.
You can always plan, decorate, and leave. If that’s what you guys agree on, then I’d say that is a pretty fair agreement and as good as it’s going to get.
To Party, or Not to Party?
In many cases, the 18-year-old may not want a party at all. At that age, it might be more fun to just go somewhere cool with their friends. Before we talk about party themes, let’s examine a few ideas that make great alternatives to the traditional 18th birthday party.
Concert: Most kids love music, and if you live in an area where bands come to town often, this is a great way to celebrate an 18th birthday. The 18-year-old will tell you if a cool band or performer is coming to town, and if not, ask.
Then offer to pay for the ticket, have him/her take some friends, and pay for a limo to take them there. If limos are out of your price range, then let them take your car.
You could also rent a nice car for them to take. The key is for them to have fun with their friends, drive up there on their own, and hang out amongst themselves.
Event: The idea of a concert may not work with your 18th birthday timeline, so consider some other kind of event. For boys, this can be a sporting event, adult oriented comedy show, amusement park, or some other community event geared toward teens and young adults.
For girls, it could be a show or speech aimed toward women, a fashion show, big local party in the area, or any other local event that appeals to young women. Ask them if they have anything in mind, offer to pay, and encourage their friends to go too. Pay for all of them to go to dinner before or after the show.
The key is to let them decide, give them some freedom with reasonable ground rules, and then you pay for everything.
Nightclub: Sometimes the best parties are hosted by someone else. Going to a nightclub is the ultimate cool thing to do for an 18th birthday party. They’ve waited their entire teen life to do that, so just let them go and offer to pay. It’s also easier for you and gets you off the hook for throwing a big party, and they’ll be happier anyway.
Trip: The 18-year-old may also choose to go on a road trip or fly somewhere with their buddies to celebrate. Should this be the case, then pay for the gas, the rental car, the plane ticket, whatever it may be. Let them go alone and let them bring friends. Don’t worry about them partying too much. Of course they will party and there’s nothing wrong with that. They can’t be kids forever so let them grow up.
This is why 18-year-olds don’t want parents at parties, because giving them strict rules and telling them to be careful is totally uncool. Give them your vote of confidence, trust they’ll do the right thing, and everything will be fine.
If the 18-year-old actually wants a party, then you’re going to need some 18th birthday decorations. And that’s what this article is about, so let’s get to it!
Pick Your Theme
As we always say, for every birthday party (or any party in general), the best thing to do is pick a theme. The benefit of doing this is that it makes it memorable, fun, and much easier to decorate. When you decorate with a theme in mind, you’ll find that the parties practically decorate themselves.
What makes the 18th birthday party unique is that you need to let the birthday boy/girl pick it. This is not the time for Harry Potter or Hello Kitty, which was fine when they were 8, but not 18. Their theme of choice is going to be a little more grown-up now. Some possible themes for your 18th birthday decorations:
College: If the 18-year-old already knows the college he/she is going to, then a great idea is to decorate the party with colors, themes, and images of that college. You could plaster the logo of the school on the wall, decorate with the college’s colors, involve the mascot, and prepare the kid for the next 4 years of his/her life. This will also be a hit with the guests, and successfully shifts the focus away from high school and onto the next big phase of their lives.
Music: We know that not all kids go to college at 18, and there’s nothing wrong with that. If a college theme isn’t appropriate for you, then consider decorating the party according to the 18-year-old’s favorite style of music. Just be careful, because a parent decorating a heavy metal party automatically makes heavy metal suddenly uncool. You may want to leave the decorations to the kid, and just offer to pay for them.
Hollywood: Teenagers idolize movie stars, so you can pretend your house is the Academy Awards and let them pretend they’re famous. Hire a limo (if you can afford it), put a red carpet in front of your house, set up some ropes, tell everyone to dress to the nines, and have someone filming the whole time. You can even serve faux awards, and have one of the 18-year-old’s witty friends write some humorous awards with the speeches full of inside jokes.
Western: Depending which part of the country you live in, a Western party may or may not be ideal for your 18th birthday decorations.
If the 18-year-old is up for it, then you’re in for a treat because Western parties are loads of fun and really easy to decorate for. There are tons of party decorations available in this theme, and the more over the top, the better.
Nightclub: Earlier we wrote that your 18-year-old may want to head out to a nightclub with his/her friends to celebrate. If you’re not comfortable with that idea, or if there are no underage clubs in your town, consider turning your home into a nightclub.
By doing this, you can be a little more elaborate with your 18th birthday decorations. Much like the Hollywood theme, try a red carpet and entrance ropes. Dim the lights, consider using a strobe light and/or disco ball, play some loud music over the speakers (neighbors permitting), and serve non-alcoholic drinks. Leave an area as a dance floor, take everyone’s coats, and let them dress up and stay up late.
Your home or apartment isn’t big enough for all this? Even better! Nightclubs are very small on purpose, because having all those people jam packed into the room makes it feel special and that it’s the place to be. So if your living quarters are small, it will mimic what a real nightclub feels like.
Nostalgia: If the 18-year-old is up for it, consider a nostalgic party with photographs from childhood, or even a slideshow or video chronicling his/her life. This may or may not be ideal for an 18th birthday, and might be more appropriate for a 60th birthday or so, but if the birthday boy/girl is up for it, it’s a solid idea.
It also leaves plenty of room for 18th birthday decorations, mostly of pictures and artifacts from youth (school projects from childhood, sports trophies, elementary school awards, etc).
Hawaiian Luau: If the weather is right, a great idea for an 18th birthday is to have an old fashioned outdoor Hawaiian Luau. Decorations for luaus are plentiful, and if you have a spacious backyard with good weather, this is an excellent idea that the guests will probably love.
Toga Party: On that note (nice weather and outdoors), another option is a toga party. Toga parties are popular with the college crowd, and that’s essentially the crowd the 18-year-old is about to be joining. For a plethora of 18th birthday decorations for a toga party, click here.
BBQ: If you’re into something straight forward and not too fancy, a simple BBQ party will do just fine. This is a perfectly acceptable 18th birthday idea for the person who wants to avoid the limelight.
A stripped down get-together, with American classics like burgers and hot dogs (throw in some non-alcoholic beer, too) is a fine party for any occasion. Keep it low-key, including the 18th birthday decorations.
They key word is “if.” Some people hate surprises, and in this day and age of Facebook and Twitter, it’s hard to keep anything secret anymore. Use your best judgment here and err on the safe side.
Other 18th Birthday Decorations and Ideas
Balloons: Normally a must for birthdays, don’t overdo it on balloons for the average 18-year-old. He/She might see them as a little childish, and that’s the last feeling you want to convey to them. Turning 18 is all about being an adult. Still, a few balloons, done tactfully, always add to any party decorations.
Party favors: You can’t go wrong with party favors, and 18th birthday parties give you a chance to do something really creative here. You could make beer mugs with the 18-year-old’s face, some sort of favor with his/her future college logo on it, a t-shirt with something cool and relevant printed on it, or anything else you can come up with. Use your imagination.
Drinks: In the United States, the legal drinking age is 21. Elsewhere, it’s as low as 18. If 18 is too young to drink where you live, spring for non-alcoholic drinks. It lets the guests act grown up without acting too grown up.
If 18 is the legal drinking age where you live, then this is a good time to let them do what they’re going to do anyway.
Video camera: Always, always film your birthday parties. Set someone up to be in charge, or at worst, place the camera on a tripod and leave it there all night. You’ll be happy one day that you captured these moments.
Food: Nothing fancy or exotic is required for 18-year-olds. You can order something cheap and greasy like pizza and wings, or have it catered with cold cuts, or cook something yourself. But if money is tight, this is one area you can be flexible with. Kids that age will eat anything and aren’t discriminatory when it comes to cheap food.
To summarize, keep your 18th birthday decorations subtle and low key. Turning 18 is a major milestone, but it’s also an age where birthday parties need to be cool and hip, or else they won’t work. Consider a non-party like a trip or special night on the town, and always ask the 18-year-old what he/she wants to do. If a party isn’t desired, it’s okay because there are graduations and other events that you can throw parties for and decorate for.
Have fun, stay out of the way, and be prepared to pay the costs. Above all, don’t be hurt or offended if the 18-year-old doesn’t really want you there. It’s just a phase.