Straight Talk Advice

Nov 13, 2012

Holiday shopping list for teens ‘n twenties

Dear Readers: Here it is again, folks, the "teen-n-twenty" shopping list that's direct from the source. I probably sound like a broken record, but I continue my progressive advice to "think outside the box" (or in this case the flat screen) and avoid addicting and social-skill-depriving gifts such as video games, or TVs and computers for the bedroom.

Laptop computers are essential for college, but are known to abruptly end family life when given to high school students. Think instead about upgrading the family desktop station so your teens don't become "missing persons" in their bedrooms. (Imaginary friends were fine when they were toddlers, but interactions with "imaginary Internet friends" are best kept to the public rooms of the house.)

Ditto for holding off on smart phones until senior year. There are plenty of great (non-Internet) cell phones that call, text and take photos — with no monthly fee. Be strong, and (ironically) ahead of the curve.

At the bottom of today's column we've compiled the top tech gifts, games and books for young people — all panel recommended. Happy shopping! —Lauren

Brandon 20, Mapleton, Maine Ask me a question

Best tip: Ask people what they want! Give cash. Gift cards get lost or lie around. For kids who can't be trusted with cash, Walmart, Amazon and eBay cards offer best selection and deals. Regarding books, consider an e-reader. Buying books, including text books, is cheaper in e-version. College-student ideas: water-filter pitchers, prepaid cell phone cards, healthy flavorful snacks, paper plates. Favorite game: Nintendo Wii U. Favorite clothes store: Express.

Hannah 18, Safford, Ariz. Ask me a question

Books make great gifts. “The Hobbit,” “Les Miserables” and “Life of Pi” are GREAT books coming out as movies this December — and much better than the movies.

Taylor 15, Santa Rosa, Calif. Ask me a question

I'm into photography so I'd like a camera strap, lens and tripod. Additional ideas: iPod charger, headphones, mini-fridge, money for clothes and shoes. Less-expensive: makeup, slippers, leg warmers, coffee mug, high school sweatshirt. Best gift cards: Forever 21, iTunes, Target, Starbucks. (Avoid spend-anywhere credit cards, they usually have activation fees.) Top books, “The Hunger Games” and “The Host.”

Colin 19, Los Angeles Ask me a question

I would like a less materialistic society. I prefer books, audio/video courses, magazines, charity or cash. Desired book: “Passage of Power,” President LBJ's biography.

Brennan 19, Colorado Springs, Colo. Ask me a question

I like gift cards to outdoor stores (REI, Sports Authority, etc.). I combine them with sales to get the hi-end jacket, backpack, skis I've been wanting. Even better, take me shopping there! Desired book: Hemingway's collected works.

Nicole 23, Santa Rosa, Calif. Ask me a question

For young people on their own, you can't beat local, organic food. All health food stores have gift cards. Favorite books: “The Alchemist” and “The Prophet.”

Molly 20, Berkeley, Calif. Ask me a question

Things like a good vacuum, iron, or kitchen knives would be great. Best is to ask. We don't care about being surprised as much as having something we really could use. My mom got me some boots early. It was great because I picked them out, thus, I LOVE THEM! (Thanks Mom!)

From the Panel: Top tech gifts, games and books

  • Smart phones: Most youth-preferred: iPhone. Price, monthly charges equivalent to rival Droid.
  • Computers: College students want laptops, not desktops or tablets. Top in cool: 13" Macbook Pro (workhorse, $1200). Best for price: 14" Lenovo ThinkPad Edge E430 ($500, super quality, rugged).
  • MP3 music players: iPod most popular, but Sansa Clip also popular, great reviews, $35. 
  • Cameras: Kodak Easy Share Sport ($105, underwater, quickshare to email, Facebook).
  • E-Readers: Kindle Paperwhite (best dedicated reader, worth the $119).
  • Watches: Casio Pathfinder, best sport watch.

Top Card Games: Taboo, Apples to Apples, Cards Against Humanity (older teens).
Board games: Game of Thrones, Settlers of Catan, Scrabble (with Scrabble e-dictionary).

Boys’ favorite books, in no particular order: “Song of Fire and Ice” (series) — (includes Book 1: "Game of Thrones"), “Harry Potter,” “Wheel of Time” (series), "The Hobbit," "Life of Pi," “DaVinci Code,” “Kite Runner,” “The River Why,” “Outliers,” “Power of One,” “Confederacy of Dunces,” “The Sun also Rises,” “East of Eden,” “Infinite Jest,” “The Sound and the Fury,” “Into the Wild,” “Lord of the Flies," anything by Tom Robbins, Ernest Hemingway.

Girls' favorite books, in no particular order: "The Hobbit," "Les Miserables," "Life of Pi," "Letters to a Young Poet" (older teens), “Water for Elephants,” “The Alchemist,” "The Prophet," “The Red Tent,” “Cannery Row,” “Siddhartha,” “Memoirs of a Geisha,” “Perzival,” “Bel Canto,” “Garden of Eden,” “Love Walked In,” “The Scarlet Letter,” “Secret Life of Bees," "The Help," "Tess of the D'urbervilles," "Love in the Time of Cholera," "Harry Potter," "Hunger Games," "Twilight," "The Host," "Game of Thrones" (older teens).

Other great ideas from the panel: Car breakdown kit, gas card, shampoo, movie passes, utility knife, bicycle, other sporting goods per recipient's interest, underwear and socks (these really are highly requested by boys, but usually the boy is particular about them; ask Mom). Warning: clothes are a top gift, especially for girls, but except for accessories, all are high-risk to purchase without the recipient by your side.

Editor's Note: About those gift cards… Brandon is correct that most are lost or lie around. This is the estimated fate of about 50 percent of gift cards given to youth, especially when given to boys. I witnessed it with my own teen sons. Cash is a better option unless, as Brandon says, the kid "can't be trusted with cash." And many can't. Check with parents. If grades are low, chances are the teen is involved in drugs, alcohol or other addictive behaviors

Best: take the young person shopping and get to know him or her. If that's not possible, consider a gift of tutoring, counseling, extracurricular classes such as singing lessons, dance, fencing, weight lifting, or a gym membership. One year, two different panelists recommended the Landmark Forum as a great gift. Another recommended study abroad for a college student.

Don't worry if funds are tight, the best gift of all is active involvement in a young person's life. Regular phone calls if you live remotely totally qualify. Members of this generation tend to like family, so don't be shy! If you're a regular reader you know plenty about their world to start a conversation. :)  —Lauren

Straight Talk TnT is a 501c3 nonprofit ("social-profit") organization. Your donation ensures the success of our work.

Comment Form

Straight Talk Advice readers are known for their frank and constructive posts that lead to insightful conversations that help many people! Please keep these guidelines in mind when posting:

  • Be constructive: Needlessly cruel or obscene comments will probably be removed. Be conscious of this so your point can be heard.
  • Be relevant: Spam or senseless character attacks irrelevant to the discussion will also probably be removed.

Happy posting!

Straight Talk Advice Recommends