Yes, “tween” is an overused portmanteau, but it does have a kernel of truth. Kids at this age are between childhood and adulthood, which puts parents in a tricky situation when finding toys for 12 year olds — or, for that matter, when starting to think about Christmas gifts for the same set. Toys that feel like they’re for little kids will be quickly discarded, while items that are too complicated or too expensive risk going too far in the other direction. The best toys for 12-year-old boys and girls live in the sweet spot between these extremes.
See more: Best Toys for 11-Year-Olds
We’ve noticed that most 12-year olds are gadget-obsessed, which makes sense. Gadgets are basically toys for adults, so they balance desires to play with toys and to act more grown-up. Our favorite toys for 12-year-olds are heavy on the electronics, and while some are great for media consumption, we’ve also included birthday gift ideas that can contribute to positive social and physical behaviors, as habits they develop at this age can carry them into … gulp … their teenage years and beyond.
Best Toys for 12 Year Olds
You'll win every at-home parenting award if you get your kid this tabletop arcade.
It feels like a real arcade game. It looks like a real arcade game. And you can play Pac-Man with your kid. Seriously, what more could you want?
Kids can battle the Green Goblin while simultaneously being active with this fitness smart watch. The battery lasts a full year, without needing to be recharged. And while they achieve their fitness goals, kids can unlock Spider-Man games.
It's like a DIY lava lamp, only better. Kids can put on their own light show with this projector, and the kit includes the projector, two wooden styluses, a plastic stencil sheet, and film.
What’s even more genius: Kids can create their light-up illustrations from scratch or by tracing from a template.
Kids can blast four darts in a row from this four-dart, pump-action blaster that's hand-powered.
This Nerf blaster is inspired by the one used in Fortnite. And because it doesn’t use batteries, kids (or you, let’s be real) can use this thing for hours.
Budding scientists will be obsessed with this USB microscope, which delivers up to 250x magnification. You simply pick what you want to look it, put it under the scope, and see it on your computer screen. It's magnificent.
The microscope is compatible with Windows and Apple operating systems. But more importantly, it recently captivated a group of 12-year-olds, who spent hours checking out detailed leaves and other objects, while ignoring their gaming consoles.
Kids will love having a speaker of their own to listen to music on, particularly one that can also answer questions and provide a nice antidote to boredom on rain days.
This kid-friendly smart speaker comes with plenty of features parents will love, namely robust parental controls and a year of free access to kid-friendly content from names like Disney and Nickelodeon. It will also connect to your existing Amazon Echo setup so you can call the kids to dinner without having to yell upstairs.
Kids love slime and unicorns, so this unicorn-themed make-your-own slime kit is sure to be a hit.
This slime kit comes with a diverse array of materials — glitters, scents, inks, powders, foam balls, beads, pearls, and more — that kids can combine to create their own special blend.
Even if your kid doesn't find any hidden treasure, she'll love sweeping the backyard, the park, and wherever else she wanders with this metal detector.
Although it’s aimed for kids, this metal detector is actually pretty powerful. It can detect metal objects up to 12 feet underground and has modes for iron, aluminum, rings, and coins. It also weighs just 2.3 pounds and collapses down to less than two feet long for easy transport.
Under adult supervision, kids can make their own candles with this comprehensive DIY kit.
Make sure you watch the kids while they’re using the stove. But otherwise, this all-inclusive candle-making kit is a great science lesson. And you wind up with three candles. The set includes three glass jars, one pound of soy wax, fragrances, color dye chips and instructions.
This won't come as a surprise, but the game selection — Mario Kart, Super Smash, and a bunch of others — and control styles have convinced us that the Nintendo Switch is the best console for most kids.
For years, Nintendo has focused more on playability than power in its consoles, content to develop new ways to play video games while Sony and Microsoft engage in a race to make the consoles with the best graphics. The Switch is a triumph, with its unique control scheme options and flexibility that means your kids can play the same games on the go and on your television.
Twelve-year-old birthday gifts don't get much better than this drone. It has a video game–like controller that has a built-in smartphone mount for monitoring video captured by the drone camera in real time.
Generations of kids have loved remote-controlled cars, boats, and planes. This new generation of toy drones adds live video to the mix, which means kids can capture and relive their aerial expeditions. This model comes with features — a pivoting camera, auto-pilot, and optical ground tracking — that help kids capture steady, clear visuals, and prevent crashes that would end all of the fun.
If your kid has a phone or tablet, chances are they spend plenty of time listening to music and watching videos. To give them great sound (and spare yourself having to hear whatever they're consuming), these headphones are a great choice.
These headphones come in plenty of kid-friendly colors. They’ll last up to about 10 hours on a single charge, and the over-ear headphones are both foldable and stretchable, so they’ll fit comfortably on almost any head.
You're never too old for a solid Nerf gun, and this one, with three different firing modes, is an excellent option.
Single-, burst-, and continuous-fire modes make this one of the most versatile Nerf blasters out there. It also has a swivel handle, two barrel scopes, and two clips for flexibility during battle and easy reloading.
This tablet is just $50, so you won't have to sweat it if your kid cracks the screen or gets it wet.
This version features a faster processor and doubles the storage capacity of the previous model. It still lets your tween access pretty much any media source, but don’t worry: You can easily set up Amazon’s parental controls to make sure your kid doesn’t find the bad stuff on the internet.
This kit comes with recipes and materials to make bath bombs of different colors, sizes, and scents.
Anyone can buy a bath bomb, plop it in the tub, and go about relaxing, but MindWare found a way to teach kids some science by having them assemble their own. Every bath bomb is just a chemical reaction, and the guide book that comes with this kit explains the chemistry behind the relaxation.
Instant gratification takes on a whole new meaning with this Polaroid camera, which lets you take 16-megapixel photographs and print instantly on 2”x3” sticky-back paper.
You’ll never go to a drugstore photo printer again, thanks to the Polaroid Mint. It has a vertical design that matches the way smartphone photos are taken, and produces detailed prints.
This entry-level SLR has the form factor, mechanics, and control that kids with the photo bug want with a price tag that won't ruin your finances.
Kids are surrounded by cameras, but those found on smartphones and tablets have processors and algorithms that do most of the work for them. A DSLR has automatic options, but it also allows them to go manual and adjust settings like aperture and shutter speed. This kind of control leads to experimentation that can deepen their interest and improve their skill in photography.
This camera comes in 10 different colors, has a built-in selfie mirror, and, most importantly, will give your almost teenager a photograph that they can actually hold. Don't underestimate the novelty of an instant camera to a generation raised on digital media.
The Mini 70 has picture-taking modes that kids can use to ensure they don’t waste their film. There’s a selfie mode (exactly what it sounds like), a hi-key mode that brightens subjects, and automatic exposure mode that makes foregrounds and backgrounds clear even in tough lighting conditions.
Active kids can capture their exploits with this VTech action cam, an inexpensive way to keep even the most gadget-obsessed kid from spending all their time indoors.
This camera is waterproof, and it comes with mounts that make it easy to attach to bikes and skateboards. Its image and video quality won’t set any records, but kids will have tons of fun of capturing underwater and handlebar-mounted views.
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