One of my teenagers is like me in that she likes lots of different things, and is SO easy to shop for! The other teenager is like Matt in that she doesn't want a lot of stuff, doesn't use a lot of stuff, has only a few specific passions that she's deeply invested in but that don't utilize stuff, and can never seem to tell you more than a couple of things that she'd actually want or need.
The kids never notice that I give them the same number of presents of the same approximate monetary value, but *I* do, and every year I have to pare my list for one kid waaaay down while searching unto the ends of the earth for things to add to my other kid's list.
Like, does anyone else have that specific problem with a TEENAGER?!? It low-key boggles my mind. Must be nice not to feel like you have a gaping void in your soul that can only be filled with stuff, I guess...
Here, though, is stuff that I've found that my teenagers DO like. One teenager likes pretty much all of this stuff, and the other is pickier, but nevertheless, I can always find something for each of them within these general categories.
Blankets and Stuffies
- blanket with a good quote on it. These aren't as wild as novelty prints, but still let you get something that fits a kid's specific personality. I like this company that puts a long excerpt of a favorite book on one side of a blanket; the other side is a sort of faux fur, so it's VERY soft! Or there's a shop on etsy that makes blankets that look like the first page of a book.
- fluffy accessories. I feel like all the kids like fluffy things. When I was in college, we used to call these bed pillows "husbands," but I think people are less weird these days.
- novelty fleece blanket. These are light and don't take up a ton of space, but both my teenagers happily snuggle in them when we're hanging out together. Last year, I bought everyone a fleece blanket relating to each person's individual fandom as a Christmas Eve present--Hot Topic had the best prices at the time, and right now it looks like they're on sale again!
- stuffies. One of my teenagers owns a stuffed six-foot loaf of French bread, and she sleeps with it every night. I've got another very strange and very long stuffie already wrapped for her. The other teenager likes stuffies so much that their existence all over their shared bedroom has become quite the point of contention between the siblings, so I've had to cool off a bit on giving her stuffies... unless/until I find her something truly great, of course!
- weighted things. Weighted blankets are wildly soothing, and weighted stuffies feel bizarrely comforting to hold. You just have to keep an eye on the weight and size of your blankets--Syd picked out a weighted Minecraft blanket from Target a few months ago (yes, she does openly admit that she is actually a nine-year-old boy...) and we were reduced to helpless giggles when she pulled it out of the package and it was approximately half her size--indeed, the perfect size for a nine-year-old boy!
- hoodies. All the teenagers like hoodies. Even my very minimalist teenager who hates clothes has a hoodie that references a favorite vacation we took together, although she wouldn't want anymore than one. Fortunately, my other teenager shares my firm conviction that the more hoodies, the better! I like to buy her ones with really niche graphics from our shared interests, and ones that are branded with places we've visited together.
- wearable hoodie/blanket. Have you seen these? They are WONDERFUL!
- winter/outdoor gear. Okay, it's probably not the most fun to receive, but if you live anywhere cold, your teenager absolutely wants gloves that are heated and/or touchscreen compatible, warm socks, base layers, wooly hats, and possibly a new coat if you didn't score one at the start of the season. My teenagers both like these mitten/fingerless glove combos, which are a nice way to keep your fingies warm while maintaining manual dexterity when needed. On a personal note, I have been waging a multi-year campaign to get Will to consent to replace the stained old puffer coat that she's been wearing since her final growth spurt. Seriously, would it kill her to just let me buy her a nice, plain, unassuming Carhartt coat? I promise that after that, I'll never pester her again about coats! I'm not even going to insist on the high-visibility model that I actually want to buy her so she doesn't get snatched by a human trafficker at college and end up being shipped across the world in a Wayfair box...
- wish list stuff. For my teenager who likes clothes, I just pull a couple of things off her wish list of techwear, Dr. Martens, slouchy sweaters, and the like. An easy win, although somehow less satisfying to me when I don't have to agonize over the selection.
- appliances. Will only needed an electric kettle for her to be good to go, but I know other students who are bringing all kinds of fun appliances, from Brita pitchers to personal smoothie blenders. I could see buying Syd a mini fridge and a mini rice cooker, in particular, with the assumption that they'll still be good to go with her to college.
- backpacks and bags. Will is going to be doing a LOT of walking at college, so she's got a messenger bag for hauling just a few things, she still needs a nice, big backpack for hauling all her textbooks and her laptop, and I'm going to sew her padded cases for her laptop and her ipad. I really like this laundry backpack, but I couldn't convince her to give up her old Army surplus laundry bag for it--we'll see how she feels after a few weeks of hauling her clothes up and down the stairs!
- dorm necessities. I bought each person in the family their own color-coded set of washcloths, hand towels, and bath towels back in that wild first wave of COVID, so that's what Will is bringing with her to college. She needed a good bathrobe, though, and desk stuff like a lamp, bookends, schools supplies organizer, etc.
- electronics. Up until Will's last birthday, the kids shared a laptop, and up until this coming Christmas, they share a cell phone.
- craft kits. If your kid is at all crafty, find something new to expose them to. One of my teenagers turned out to really love the latch hook kit I bought her last Christmas, and we all spent that first pandemic summer busily working away on our paint-by-numbers. Cross-stitch, diamond painting, embroidery and resin art are also fun new crafts to try. Or, sneak in some STEM!
- food kits. Make them good ones, though, not ones marketed to children. One year, for instance, I found a kit to make authentic gummies, not the weirdly flavorless kind that come in children's kits--I can't remember where I bought that kit, but it was marketed to professional cake decorators and it was LEGIT! Boba tea kits, sushi making kits, mini waffle makers and fun waffle mixes, and starter kits to make any of their favorite foods are always fun.
- LEGO set. There's definitely a LEGO set your kid will like, even if they're not super into the LEGOs themselves. My teenager who loves LEGOs will love anything, but my teenager who's not particularly into LEGOs would still love anything Nutcracker or Avengers-themed.
- pinback button maker. If you've got a kid who loves to draw or collage, this could be an easy win. This metal American-made machine is pricey, but it's the absolute best quality button maker you can buy and will last forever, so you can ebay it if they get tired of it.
- bands. You're in luck if your kid is into vinyl, and in even better luck if your kid is into an older band. My teenager who loves music isn't into vinyl and wouldn't want CDs (which... gasp!), but she's going to flip out if I manage to not get sniped and actually win the auction for a certain vintage concert T-shirt I'm trying to buy her off of ebay. If teenagers are into bands, they generally like band T-shirts and concert T-shirts, even if they didn't go to that concert. If the band is popular enough to have fan-made swag on etsy, you can buy some really fun stuff there.
- manga and/or anime. It's SO easy to buy for your teenager if they're into this! You can buy them the complete collection of their favorite manga, the complete series of their favorite anime, authentic Japanese merch, or fan-made merch from etsy.
- books, movies and/or TV shows. Don't buy them a hoodie with the name of their favorite book or movie on it; instead, buy them something that looks like it comes from the world that the book or show exists in--fan-made items in Hogwarts school colors (please don't buy anything officially licensed because that TERF Rowling does not need anymore of our money), Disneybounding items, etc. My teenager still loves Percy Jackson and still wears the Camp Half-blood hoodie I gave her years ago, and I have a couple of ideas for more Percy Jackson things I can make for her this year.
- pajama pants. For some reason, they're the exception to the rule that wearing something with your favorite show's name on it is corny. The cornier the pajama pants, the better! I'm high-key obsessed with this brand that I discovered at Hot Topic once upon a time.
- theme parks. This doesn't have to be Disney! One of my teenagers is especially into the small indie theme park that we visit each summer, so after this year's visit I got onto their online gift shop and bought her a couple of souvenirs.
Gross Motor Skills Support
- things for flopping. Our giant bean bag works either for their bedroom or for a family space. It takes up SO much room, but everyone, including the pets, absolutely adores it. It's great for flopping and leaping upon, but it's also just a place to lie that isn't my couch. Big floor cushions and other interesting seating choices for their work areas are also good for encouraging different ways to sit and lie, reinforcing flexibility and strength.
- things for swinging and bouncing. I wasn't sure if this indoor trampoline would be a hit, but one of my teenagers, especially, is on and off this thing multiple times a day. The teenagers don't use their aerial silks much anymore, but it's still a huge hit when their friends are over. And hammocks are eternally awesome!
- outdoor stuff. The slackline that I bought a few years ago never took off, but Will adores her kayak and both kids love this crazy-expensive but equally crazy-fast sled. Snow accessories are still popular, and camping supplies aren't perhaps the most fun, but we get a LOT of use out of them.
- wheels. A bicycle, scooter, rollerblades, or roller skates are still fun, especially if at least one of the adults is also kitted up so you can go together.
Stuff for Their Hobbies
Vibe Stuff for their Personal Spaces
- beds and bedding. My teenagers are both getting bedroom upgrades this winter--one of them is over the moon with joy, and the other one DNGAF because her actual bedroom for the majority of the next four years will be in Ohio! An eminently DIY-able canopy bed frame is on the excited teenager's wish list, and although that's more of a home improvement project than a Christmas gift, canopy curtains and new bedding ARE good gifts!
- lava lamp, bubble lights, fake aquariums, etc. It's nice to give teenagers something soothing to look at. One of my teenagers would love an aquarium but you know how I feel about delicate pets, so I kind of think a faux aquarium like this would be a good compromise.
- music. Only one of my teenagers is into music, but she is very much so! She only streams it, though, so Bluetooth is the reigning monarch in our house. Fortunately, you can do ALL THE THINGS with Bluetooth, from whole sound systems to portable speakers to stuff for the pool and bathroom.
- twinkle lights. I guess we've gone beyond buying a couple of extra sets of lights at Christmas and hanging them around your bed. Now the kids can get LED lights that change colors and move to their music.