by Melanie Wagner
When Arden Tahtinen turned 13 last year, she got the kind of birthday party any teen would envy: a co-ed dance party in the VIP room at a teen club, surrounded by 40 of her friends. Arden, an eighth-grader at Mt. Vernon Presbyterian School in Sandy Springs, had been promised the party by her godparents, who own Midtown teen club One Noiz.
“I gave Arden the responsibility of inviting guests that wouldn’t cause trouble and keeping track of everyone at the party,” says mom Kelly. “I asked parents not to stay, so the kids would feel free to have fun without feeling like they were being watched – which of course they were!”
Tahtinen, her husband, and Arden’s godparents, Marie and Bruce Andujar, along with a handful of the club’s security guards, kept watch over the three-hour party, which included a DJ and time for food and drinks. “The room was not off limits to adults, but we didn’t make it obvious that we were chaperoning!” Tahtinen says.
The year before for Arden’s 12th birthday, Tahtinen hosted a group of kids (boys and girls) at her house, where she played music and screened movies. She says that while neither party presented any problems, she definitely prefers hosting a party at a location outside the home.
“Having a co-ed party is definitely not as scary as it seems!” Tahtinen says. “In my opinion, it’s better to have the party at a place where the pressure is off you as the parent and the host, a place where you can watch from afar. I really think kids will behave if you give them some space. They just want a place to hang out and socialize that’s not in a super-structured environment.”
This year, to mom’s liking, Arden chose to keep the festivities low-key for her birthday – dinner and a movie for six friends (yes, boys and girls).
For parents with younger children, co-ed parties can be just as challenging when you eliminate the princess or the Star Wars motifs.
But for Adriane Walls, whose family lives in the Oak Grove neighborhood in Atlanta, co-ed parties are a cinch if you remember to keep the festivities simple. All of the Walls’ parties have been co-ed because her boys, ages 8 and 5, like to invite all of their friends. The family has hosted parties at the pool, jump places, created a treasure hunt at home one year, and most recently rented out Sensations Therafun for jumping, swinging, zip-lining, climbing and gymnastics.
“Co-ed parties don’t have to be a big deal if you remember that the party is for the kids,” Walls says. “All kids enjoy having fun, so just keep the party simple. Don’t drive yourself crazy trying to do something elaborate.”
Camille Mahdi of East Atlanta has always hosted co-ed parties for her daughter Amirah, now 13. “My daughter is an only child and has a lot of friends, so her parties are usually pretty big. We started doing them co-ed pretty early on and never really saw a reason to change,” Mahdi says.
Her best advice for parents hosting a co-ed party is to plan for everyone. “Make sure you offer gender-neutral activities so everyone is happy,” she says. “Even when Amirah was younger and wanted a princess party, I made sure to make the boys’ goodie bags superhero-themed.”
In the past, Mahdi’s fetes have included taking the group, typically 20 kids or more, to an amusement park, bowling, karaoke, Snow Mountain (Amirah’s birthday is Dec. 26), plus a handful of at-home parties with hired characters and entertainment. For Amirah’s 10th birthday, Mahdi rented out a banquet hall and hosted a formal dance. She provided the food and encouraged guests to dress up.
“Amirah and I talk out her parties beforehand and decide together,” Mahdi says. “Setting rules hasn’t been an issue so far, but I can see that as she gets older I’ll have to set more rules and keep a closer eye on what’s happening at the party.”