Tara Bone, contributing writer

The clock is ticking. Soon the endless lists and late nights will culminate on Christmas morning when parents dream of, not sugar plums, but the delighted surprise of happy kids. A magical Christmas morning is every parent’s dream. Until five years ago, I was confident about my magic-making abilities until the unthinkable happened — my oldest son grew up. I discovered that gift-giving for tweens and teens is complicated.

Of course, gifts aren’t the holiday focus for many families, but there’s always that question of what to get the kids. Realistically, kids love getting gifts. Consider the classic movie A Christmas Story. Like Ralphie, boys and girls dream of receiving their version of the Red Ryder BB gun, but often a simple BB gun isn’t going to make a tween or teens’ dreams come true.

That’s what makes giving the perfect tween and teen gift challenging: the simple expectations of children change. Typical gifts for this age group can be expensive and leave parents feeling overwhelmed, or can frankly be boring. What is a holiday-frazzled parent to do? Go straight to the experts for help.

Recently I talked to 90 tweens and teens about gift-giving in an informal survey. I asked them two questions: 1. Describe the best gift you’ve ever received, and 2. What do you want for Christmas this year? Their responses were surprising and encouraging. They were hoping for meaningful gifts; they weren’t all about video games and expensive gadgets.

Over and over again, these tweens and teens said they value gifts that are “experiences,” rather than gadgets. Most discussed family trips, season passes, and activities they experience with others. Overall, they said the best gifts they’ve received encourage creativity, create memories, build skills, and let their imagination fly.

Although some surveyed said they wish for the Nerf Modulus Regulator or the Nintendo Switch, one survey participant, McKenrie Vellinga, summed up survey results perfectly: “The best gift I ever received was a family vacation to Mount Rushmore,” McKenrie said. “It was a gift I could share with family, and I’ll remember it forever.” Isn’t that what Christmas morning magic is all about? Creating family bonds and memories that last beyond the morning and into forever.

Here are gift-giving ideas from the 90 tweens and teens surveyed:

  • Family trip/vacation
  • iFly Indoor Skydiving
  • Lagoon Season Passport
  • Ski resort pass
  • Camping reservations and camping gear
  • Instrument (piano, guitar, drums) with lessons
  • Rifle or bow and arrow with lessons
  • Art kit and lessons
  • Sports or theatre event tickets
Outdoor/Active Gea for communal use
  • Bike, hoverboard, scooter
  • Motorized vehicles for family use: four-wheeler, dirt bike, Razor, moped, snowmobile
  • Trampoline
  • Air soft gun/Nerf guns
Misc. & Technology
  • Drone (combines technology and outdoors)
  • Pets: dogs and lizards
  • Nintendo Switch
  • Sony PlayStation
  • Cell Phone
  • Family collectibles like sports cards, coins, or comic books