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The Best Gifts for 12-Year-Olds

Our recommendations are truly on point.

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.

The Best Games and Toys for 12-Year-Olds 2021

This fun color-changing lightbox is powered by either batteries or USB, and comes with 167 black letters and numbers and 185 emoji fragments. Plus, it has its own remote control. Of course it does.

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.

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.

If your tween, like most tweens, is suddenly into tie dye, here's a kit that's perfect for summer days spent outdoors. Everything is pre-mixed and ready to use; the set contains eight bright colors and dyes 20 shirts.

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.

Get even the most unwilling tweens outdoors with this multi-player game. The first player serves the ball so it slams into the net and bounces to the opponent. The goal: To return the ball back to the net within three touches. It's hella fun.

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.

Your aspiring DJ will be (almost) ready to go pro with this set. This easy-to-use controller teaches kids to use the gear and master DJ techniques. There's a built-in sound card with plug and play connectivity using a USB cable. And given that it weighs less than five pounds, it's also eminently portable.

This DIY bracelet kit encourages creativity and self-expression in tweens, and simplifies the fine art of friendship bracelet creation. That's because it comes with a spinning loom (with a secret storage drawer) and 18 skeins of cotton embroidery thread.

At this point, your kid has a phone and if not, is always stealing yours to take photos. Elevate the quality of the photography with this 18mm wide angle lens, which works both with Apple and androids. It takes photos and videos that are crisp, and clear, with no fisheye distortion.

Flour Shop cakes are second to none in terms of creativity. Now, with this kit, your tween can make those famous rainbow-colored push pops at home. The kit yields 12 pops and comes with food coloring, cake mix, frosting, gels, and sprinkles, plus pop molds.

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.

At this point, your kid has a phone. And it dies. All. The. Time. It provides two+ iPhone or Samsung charges. It weighs about as much as a cup of blueberries and fits right into a back pocket.

Knitting, yes knitting, is an easy way to calm the mind and give your hands something to do. This cool kit is perfect for tweens who are knit-curious, because it comes with every single thing they need to knit their very first hat. Video instructions as well.

The Arcade Coder teaches kids how to design, code and create their own video games and animations, using simple instructions anyone can follow. And it grows with them: The more advanced they become, the more difficult the games become. It's compatible with iPads running iOS11 or above, but does not work with android.

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.

Speaking of showers, this locker suctions onto the wall, can hold 40 pounds' worth of bath gear, and has a combination lock. So no one uses up your tween's precious products.

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.

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.

The most perfect bean bag ever made: It's ideal for tweens reading a book, gaming, or watching a movie. It has a gentle recline and raised back. The removable, and washable outer cover can be swapped out, if the color gets tiresome.

A cool, classic, timeless, dirt-resistant backpack that lasts forever. Pick whatever color your tween loves. It has a main zippered compartment, a front zippered pocket, and two open side pockets.

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.

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.

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.

Give your gamer the cleanest audio money can buy. This best-in-class microphone delivers crisp sound, has a built-in anti-vibration shock mount, and an LED indicator that lets him or her know if they're muted or not.

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.

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 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.

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.

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