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 Christmas 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 and Christmas 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.
The Best Games and Toys for 12-Year-Olds
A camera that fits in their pocket and prints out photos that are actually stickers? Win-win. No ink needed, because this one uses ZINK (Zero Ink) technology to create prints that are smudge-free and water-resistant.
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.
Earbuds in cool colors, with 24 hours of battery life, and built-in Tile tech so they don't go missing. Yup. Pretty damn great.
Skateboarding is pretty much the perfect socially distant activity. And this board is great because it has a 7.625 inch wide deck, which is the ideal size for starting out.
This sterling silver necklace, with 100+ mls of 24k gold, spells out 10 characters. And each letter ranges from 4 to 6mm in size. It's cool, sweet, and timeless.
At last, Nerf's Halo blasters are here. And damn, they're fine. It's inspired by the one in Halo Infinite and includes a 10-dart clip.
Your aspiring DJ will be (almost) ready to go pro with this set. This easy-to-use controller teaches kids to mix and is actually almost quasi-professional. Once you connect this to the app, it shows kids how to transition between tracks and switch between songs, plus how to work special effects.
Not only is the newest Apple watch affordable. But it works with Apple's Family Setup feature, which keeps your kids connected to you at all times. Plus, you monitor their screen time, and can set the watch up so they're not distracted when they need to be doing schoolwork. And because it's tethered to them, they won't lose it. In theory.
Tweens love all this personalized. This lovely square 18 X 18 inch pillow can be customized with names and color schemes. You can choose from cotton canvas or linen, or opt for a bigger size. The alternative down insert is included.
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.
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.
Scrunchies are back, in a big way. But big scrunchies are a no-go. For the tween who loves ponytails, these are the perfect in-between hair ties. Plus, they're made of silk, so they're gentler on hair and reduce any frizziness.
Look, get your gamer what he or she really wants. A gaming laptop. This is one affordable, fast, powerful, with solid build quality and a great display. Plus, it looks cool. It runs on Windows, so kids can also use this thing for remote learning. It has an Intel® Core™ i5-9300H processor Quad-core 2.40 GHz, 32 GB of max memory, and a 15.6 inch screen, as well as eight hours of battery life.
A beautiful sterling silver ring that lets kids send secret messages. How? Each letter in the alphabet is replaced with a number.
Not only is this Bluetooth speaker water-resistant. But it can be immersed in up to three feet of water and come out swinging. Your tween will love it.
The tween audiophile will dig this turntable not only because it looks damn fine thanks to its walnut-finished cabinet. 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.
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 fully-assembled 16-inch rocket flies up to heights of 1,100 feet and is easily recovered with its 12-inch parachute. To launch this bad boy, you need the launch system, model rocket engines, igniters and recovery wadding. But damn, is the end result worth it.
At last, at long last, it's here. The 1,023 piece Razor Crest starship, with a minifigure cockpit, two spring-loaded shooters, a cargo hold with opening sides/access ramps and carbonite bounty elements inside, as well as a sleeping area and detachable escape pod.
This ridiculously, stupidly, gloriously soft faux fur blanket upgrades any tween movie night. Or a morning sleeping in. Because they love to sleep in. Its short pile is dipped in a contrast color, so it's just offbeat and funky enough.
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.
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.
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.
This Bluetooth-enabled mini projector (small enough to fit into a handbag or backpack) packs a mean punch. For little kids, it comes with 120+ hours of preloaded, parent-curated content. But tweens can use it to seamlessly content on Netflix, Amazon Prime Video, Youtube, or mirror the phone. It projects onto any flat surface. The battery is rechargeable and lasts three hours.
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