It’s time to celebrate the last year before you have a teenager (gulp)! Throwing a successful birthday party for a tween takes some planning and communication. After all, they’re called tweens for a reason- they’re somewhere between little kids and teenagers, which can be hard on them and us. Luckily, hitting just the right note doesn’t have to be complicated.
Talk to your 12-year-old and consider their interests and friend group. The tween years are a time when friend groups may narrow, and gone are the days of inviting the whole class for a birthday party. Your tween may also be more introverted and prefer a family dinner or a day trip with a best friend.
These are our favorite ideas for making your 12-year-old feel special and celebrated.
Related: The Best NEW Toys & Gifts for 12 Year Old Girls
1. Sleepover – with a twist
Most girls still love having sleepovers at this age, but to make it an extra special birthday sleepover, you can put a twist on it. Whether it’s a spa night, craft night, campfire and s’mores, or a TikTok party, centering it around an activity generally makes things easier on you in the long run. You may even be able to get away with a few themed decorations!
2. Cooking or baking party
Budding chef on your hands? Some kids just love to cook and bake from a young age, but it can be hard to work that into daily life. Give them free rein (with some supervision) in the kitchen with a few friends for their birthday. Plan the menu, print out recipes, and see how they do. You’ll want to keep things relatively simple, but options include cookies, cupcakes, homemade pizza and toppings, and tacos in a bag. Make it a bake-off by having the birthday boy or girl judge the results.
3. Amusement park
While this certainly isn’t the cheapest option, it gets everybody out of the house for a full day of fun. As kids get older, it can be fun to choose a day trip instead of a party, whether you keep it to just the family, or invite a friend or close cousin. They’ll have a blast riding roller coasters or hitting up the water park. Depending on where you live, you can check out Hershey Park, Kings Dominion, Six Flags, Busch Gardens, or even Universal or Disney if you want to go all out.
4. Backyard Olympics
Invite enough kids or family members to break into at least two teams and let the games begin! Each team can wear a different colored shirt, and the winners get a medal, of course. You can hit up the dollar store for game supplies like hula hoops, bean bags, and beach balls. This party idea takes some planning on your part but will keep everybody busy, laughing, and moving. Here are a few ideas to get you started.
5. Ice skating or roller skating party
Ice skating and roller skating are fun for older kids because they’re (hopefully) not wiping out the whole time. This is a perfect option if your child wants a big birthday party with all of their friends, and it takes the stress off of you in terms of cleaning and hosting. Admission per person is usually pretty cheap, so you can also keep it to a few friends for a fun afternoon out.
You still have a few years left before they get their license, so in the meantime, let them race! Go-karting locations host parties and group events, or you can just have them bring a friend along. There are often other activities at the locations, like mini-golf, arcades, and food. Keep in mind that which track your child gets to use often depends on their height.
7. Video game party
It’s hard to deny that most boys love video games. Make their dreams come true with a basement video game party complete with their friends, comfy chairs, and unlimited snacks. There are even companies that will bring a mobile video game theater to your house that allows around 15 guests to play in stadium seating for the ultimate video game experience.
8. Shopping trip
Take your daughter out for a girl’s day to pick out clothes or her own gifts, and go out for lunch afterward. Another option is for her to go with a favorite aunt or grandmother, if you, her, and shopping sounds like a fight waiting to happen. This is a nice way to make your daughter feel mature and grown-up, or as an option for a kid that’s having trouble making friends.
Related: Best Toys & Gifts for 12 Year Old Boys (a VERY picky 2021 list)
9. Craft party
There are so many crafts kits you can purchase that take a lot of the planning out of the process, and the kids will be old enough to handle most of the crafting on their own. Cover the table with a tablecloth you can toss, and let them go to town. They can make jewelry, bath bombs, DIY slime, pressed flower art, terrariums, or even have a paint or pottery party at a different location.
10. Neon party
Hoping to get away with one last theme party for your tween? You may just be able to sell them on a neon party with their friends. Have everybody wear a white T-shirt so that they can be drawn on with neon markers. Other party ideas are neon face paint, a black light, glow sticks, a disco ball strobe light, and music. We love a neon party for a co-ed gathering or a big group of friends.
11. Emoji party
This theme is easy to buy decorations for, from emoji balloons, plates, cupcake toppers, emoji stickers, and black and yellow everything. You can really have fun with emoji-themed desserts, from emoji cake pops to cupcakes with chocolate icing and eyeballs to look like, well, the poop emoji. Buy a bunch of emoji pillows to send home as party favors or do an emoji photo booth.
12. Tropical party
While this works best if you have a pool, you can definitely pull it off without one, or have it at the community pool. Decorate with grass skirts, yard flamingos, beach balls, tiki torches, and tropical-colored balloons. Whip up some mocktails with drink umbrellas, and you can have a cookout or get Hawaiian pizza. If you don’t have a pool, plan some luau party games to keep everybody busy.
13. Backyard theater
A DIY backyard theater is easier than you think and definitely has the wow factor. You will need a portable screen or a white sheet to use as the backdrop, a projector, a movie to stream, and a sound system (which can be as basic as a Bluetooth speaker). Do a trial run to make sure everything is functioning before the guests arrive. Set up chairs or blankets and cushions, and provide chips, popcorn, and a ton of candy.
14. Minute to win it
Modeled off the popular game show comprised of 60-second challenges, this party idea is a great way to get your tween and their friends off their phones, interacting, and having a blast. Depending on how many people are invited, everybody can play the games together or go from station to station. Here are 15 game ideas that are relatively simple and won’t require a ton of supplies.
15. Music festival
It might be a while before music festivals are up and running, so why not bring one to your backyard? Go boho with mismatched sheets and pillows on the ground or as a teepee, string lights, and flower crowns. Make age-appropriate playlists ahead of time with your 12-year-old and have plenty of yummy drinks and snacks. If you want to get even more creative, you could have a tie-dye station, a temporary tattoo station, or a DIY photo booth.