Though it is an overused portmanteau, “tween” is an apt descriptor for 12-year-olds, who are in that liminal space between childhood and puberty-catalyzed young adulthood. They have peer groups and deal with peer pressure. They are starting to feel stress from the demands of school. They have moods. So many moods. These kids are also sophisticated, savvy to marketing, and driven by personal interests, which makes buying gifts for 12-year-olds a singularly difficult task. In fact, the best toys for 12-year-olds should look like anything but toys for them to make a real impact.
Birthday gift ideas can feel especially fraught. The very phrase “toys for 12-year-olds” can seem like an oxymoron. There are the old familiar paths of least resistance: gaming devices, video games, and Amazon gift cards always work. But that’s all a bit uninspired.
Toys that feel like they’re for little kids will be quickly discarded, and more grown-up gifts may prove too complicated (or expensive) to make practical sense. The best toys for 12-year-old boys and girls live between extremes. The art of finding the perfect gift is the art of feeling one’s way around a big old gray area.
The list below is long on gadgets and for good reason. Many 12-year-olds are gadget-obsessed, which makes sense given that gadgets are basically toys for adults and neatly balance a desire to play and a desire to play-act adulthood.
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The Best Active Games and Toys for 12-Year-Olds 2022
It's a colorful battery-operated bird that's a drone. Or a drone that's a bird. Call it whatever you want, but this thing is cool. A simple remote lets kids control the creature, and it has autonomous obstacle recognition and will automatically turn around six feet away from a wall. Disaster averted.
Apologies for the pun, but this is a slam dunk of a gift. It's an LED-illuminated backboard, a 9.5 inch metal rim that's equipped with a hardy eight loop net, and can even handle three-point shots and, oh yes, slam dunks. It fits any regular-sized door.
For your budding green thumb, this comprehensive gardening kit is all he or she will need to fall deeply in love with horticulture this growing season. Including a trowel, shovel, hand rake, garden shears, watering can, kneeling pad, six nursery pots, and more, all you'll need to add are seeds and soil.
The Best STEM Games and Toys for 12-Year-Olds 2022
A smart science kit, this one combines the app experience with real-world data. First, kids use the included sensor pods to collect data about light, sound, and temperature in their surroundings, and transmit the data to the app. Then, they use the data they collect to hatch creatures that can thrive in that specific environment. So, if it's cold outside, they might get a hairy creature that keeps itself warm. A pretty dope blend of the virtual and the real.
A hands-on STEM toy, this robot is deceptively easy to use. Once kids assemble it, they code it to move by snapping the coding buttons onto the coding wheel. It can move forward, backward, and rotate 360 degrees, plus it can kick, lift, throw, or even draw.
Budding scientists will be obsessed with this USB microscope, which delivers up to 250x magnification. You simply pick what you want to look at, put it under the scope, and see it on your computer screen. It's magnificent. The perfect gift for an aspiring NASA employee, the microscope is compatible with Windows and Apple operating systems. But more importantly, it recently captivated a group of area 12-year-olds, who spent hours checking out detailed leaves and other objects, while ignoring their gaming consoles.
Chemistry, but make it fun: Kids build molecules from plastic atom models that connect using magnets. Then, kids use the app to scan in their creation and identify the molecule using image recognition technology. Kids build propane, acetone, formaldehyde, and table salt molecules, among many others.
The Best Creative Gifts 12-Year-Olds 2022
Wheatgrass grows fast and is actually good when eaten by your pets, making it one of the best house-started plants on which your child to learn. KiwiCo's kit includes a pot which your child decorates, a journal for observations, and everything else your child will need to bring forth life. Bonus: It's also reusable.
Personalized jewelry never loses its appeal, and this kit allows kids to create unique metal-stamped jewelry for their friends. Self-expression at its best: The kit includes a 27 piece letter stamp set, hammer, metal stamping block, nine metal charms, a key ring, 21 jump rings, an earring wire set, four chains, four lobster clasps, and mini pliers.
Journaling is a wonderful way for tweens to express their fears, frustrations, and fantasies without being judged. And this 176 page smart notebook works with the Moleskine Pen and the Moleskine Notes app to transfer all freehand notes from page to screen in real time. Where today's musings become tomorrow's memories.
The Best Tech Gifts for 12-Year-Olds 2022
Generations of kids have loved remote-controlled cars, boats, and planes. This new generation of toy drones adds video to the mix, which means kids can capture and relive their aerial expeditions — or experience them in real-time with live-video monitoring using a phone or tablet. This model has a video game–like controller, altitude hold, and three skill settings, so it's perfect for beginners — but lets young pilots grow.
This is the more portable and more affordable little brother (or sister) of the original Nintendo Switch. It won't connect to your TV and has no detachable controllers, but this Switch Lite is cheaper than the original version, designed specifically for handheld play, has a really long lasting battery life, and has fully integrated controls and a built-in control pad. It's great for gaming on the go — and for the clumsy gamer who might drop their handheld devices a little too often.
The tween audiophile will dig this turntable not only because it looks damn fine. But mostly because he or she can listen to music as the artist intended for it to be heard: With flawless playback. This particular stylus is designed to track the record grooves with superior precision and accuracy.
A pretty awesome gift for music lovers: An easy to use smart controller that teaches kids how to DJ, giving them an endless creative outlet. They can play tracks from their smartphones or PC/Mac using a variety of DJ apps, or they can can mix music stored in iTunes. There's even a very cool Transition FX functionality to help them match phrases and smoothly transition between songs.
Connect this drawing tablet to a Mac or PC, and everything he or she draws gets transferred over. You just connect it via USB, install the driver, and then artists can draw shapes and express themselves however they want. It's also indispensable for photo-editing, allowing detailed retouching through Photoshop and other applications.
The coolest Lego set of 2021, this one pays fitting homage to the O.G. of Nintendo sets. At 2,646 pieces, it'll keep your tween busy for days. And the end result includes a controller and an opening slot for the buildable Game Pak; plus of course the '80s-style TV displaying the classic Super Mario Bros. game.
Not only is this headset one of the most comfortable ones on the market, thanks to its gel-infused ear cushions. But especially for the price, the sound quality is stellar and immersive. And it has a built-in noise-isolating microphone. It's compatible with the PS5 and latest Xbox.
Any 12-year-old will cooly inform you that all he or she wants is the latest iPhone. But this instant camera also hits that sweet spot of being so retro that it's actually cool. It's got autofocus, so the pictures just come out better. And your kid gets the instant gratification of having a physical picture in hand.
The Best Apparel and Homegoods Gifts for 12-Year-Olds 2022
Nail salons are open in many places. That doesn't mean you want to send your tween to one for a manicure. Enter the Poppy. It's a universal polish bottle handle that makes painting your own nails easier, faster, and mistake-proof. Pop it on top of any polish for a secure grip and steady strokes.
Speaking of all things custom, take the classic Vans. This style has weather-resistant uppers, warm textile linings, a heat retention layer between sockliner and outsole to keep feet warm and dry, and vulcanized lug outsoles for traction. Kids pick their shoes, colors, and patterns, and wear something totally unique to them.
Is your tween working on his or her sarcasm skills? This stylish letter board will let her practice without a device. Add this to the top of your gifts for 12-year-olds list. Whether he or she wants to use it as a photo prop or a silent means of communication, this felt letter board, which is available in more than 30 different bright or neutral colors, will win big points. It comes with more than 300 letters, numbers and special characters like hashtags.
What's better than whacking the hell out of a piñata? Getting one filled with Fortnite loot, that's what. This specific llama comes loaded with one figure, 10 weapons, four pieces of back bling, and eight pieces of exclusive building materials. The Fortnite lover in your home will be thrilled, to say the least.
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