Yes, “tween” is an overused portmanteau, but it does have a kernel of truth. Kids at this age are on the cusp 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 12 year olds. Because if we get real for a minute, when it comes to birthday gift ideas, it’s best to keep things simple for this age group. They want gaming devices, video games, or the always-pleasing Amazon gift card.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention dubs this age group “young teens.” And 12-year-olds, per the CDC, are more concerned with body image and clothes. They are moody. They have peer groups and deal with peer pressure. They start to feel more stress from the demands of school.
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.
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 Gifts for 12 Year Olds
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.
The Switch is a major winner, with its unique control scheme options and flexibility that means your kids can play the same games on the go and on your TV. Which is either a bonus, or a major issue.
This is the more portable and more affordable little brother (or sister) of the original Nintendo Switch.
It won’t connect to your TV, but this Switch Lite is designed specifically for handheld play and has fully integrated controls and a built in +control pad. It’s great for gaming on the go.
Is your tween working on 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.
Make like James Corden and turn any road trip into a musical fantasy (or nightmare).
Toys for 12-year-olds should encourage them to let loose, and this thing is actually a hell of a good time. Just pair your mobile device to the mic using Bluetooth, and you can sing along to your favorite song from your karaoke or music app of choice through a connected speaker.
This kit comes with recipes and materials to make bath bombs of different colors, sizes, and scents.
Some of the best gifts for tweens are the ones that include a bit of stress relief. 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 bow and arrow set is genius for two reasons: The arrows make a noise when they’re headed your way, so kids can duck. And the arrows go more than 250 feet when launched.
A fitness watch for kids, with a Spider-Man face? Yes please.
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 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 at 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.
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.
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 totally 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.
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