MTV’s ‘Sweet 16’ show drives fad for lavish birthday parties

? Steve Till, general manager at the Hartford Club, hadn’t banked on the conversation he had with his soon-to-be-16 daughter several weeks ago.

She wants a party, a Sweet 16 party, and she wants more than a family gathering with some cake.

Nicole Till has been bitten by the MTV “My Super Sweet 16” show, which is driving a teen fad. She wants an event – an unforgettable night of nights, one that is so over the top it will have friends hoping to be on the guest list.

Birthdays, bat mitzvahs, high school graduations and quinceaneras have become big business when it comes to opulence, and shows like “My Sweet 16” are fueling party fever.

“I read an article about parties for teenagers titled ‘Don’t You Wish Your Party Was Hot Like Mine,’ and that said it all,” said Susan Reardon, a Litchfield County mother who is planning a $12,000 birthday party for her nearly 16-year-old daughter, Grace. Those plans include specially designed invitations, a tented backyard with linen-covered round tables, a dance floor, a band, an ice cream sundae bar and DVDs of the celebration for all the guests.

“I’m not sure this party is so much about celebrating her birthday but about her being ‘in,'” said Reardon, a mother of three. “You do what you do for your kids, even it means biting your tongue and spending the money.”

Andrea Manning, spokeswoman for “My Super Sweet 16,” which premiered in 2005, said the show covers outrageous events because that’s what people want to watch. “These events are planned before MTV comes into the mix,” she e-mailed. “We do not plan the parties for the families. We aren’t promoting these parties; we are just documenting teenagers who are having lavish Sweet 16 parties.”

But if imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, then a lot of teenagers and their parents have waded in as they try to put their collective best foot and festivities forward. “Everybody wants the best, and everyone wants to think they are better than they are,” said 16-year-old Sara Robotham of Farmington.

Even as a guest there is pressure to excel when it comes to attending such soirees.

“I had a custom dress made for my friend Carly’s Sweet 16 party at a hotel in Long Island. I wanted something unique, something so that I would fit in,” Robotham said. “The party theme was ‘Candyland,’ and she had huge gingerbread men and candy canes made from Styrofoam. It was gorgeous.”

So what is driving it all, really? Industry experts say it is no different than when dance parties in the basement, bowling parties, bashes at McDonald’s or pool parties were the celebrations to have.

“It is all about trends,” said Andrea Correale, president of Elegant Affairs in New York. “These big parties are what is in these days.”

Correale says she has guided parties with price tags of up to half a million dollars, and while that’s not affordable for most – “I have had clients who took out mortgages in order to stage a party,” she said – the bottom line is the kids want parties, and parents are accommodating them.

And as far as the Till family’s birthday plans?

“She’ll have a limo, a new dress. There will be ice carvings, a (disc jockey), invitations, maybe a comic,” Steve Till said. “But we’re controlling the budget. It won’t be lavish, but it will be something for her to remember.”