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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, toys for 12-year-olds need to look like anything but toys for them to really make an impact.

Birthday gift ideas can feel especially fraught. The phrase “toys for 12-year-olds” can seem like an oxymoron. There are some paths of less 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 adult gifts might be a bit 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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This fully-assembled 16 inch rocket flies up to heights of 1100 feet and is easily recovered with 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.

And here's the complete set your kid needs to build and launch his or her very own starter rocket.

Houston, we do not have a problem. In an about an hour, your kid will be launching his or her own Alpha III beginner-level rocket with pre-colored parts.

A genius way for kids to practice soccer, and practice some more.

You strap one end to the ball and the other end to the kid, and your Megan Rapinoe does drills for hours.

Quite often, retro gifts make the best gifts, and this Lego building set pays tribute to one of the most iconically silly cartoons ever.

Wilma! Fred! Kids build the Flintstones’ home, which features a removable roof, a sofa, TV, buildable palm tree and postbox, plus a family car with an attachable dinosaur rib.

What's better than whacking the hell out of a pinata? 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 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.

There’s a reason that the Switch is such a popular kids toy. 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.

Yes, of course your kid wants the pricey AirPods. And yes, your kid will lose them. Get these wireless earbuds instead.

These earbuds cost a fraction of what Apple’s cost, they are sweat-resistant, and they have more than 10 hours of battery life. Plus they work with Siri and Google Assistant.

At this point, your kid has a phone. So get him or her a case they'll actually appreciate because they can take perfect selfies.

These durable phone cases come with integrated PopGrips for easier texting and picture-taking; plus, the PopTops are interchangeable. So kids never get bored. 

A great and time-saving investment for tweens who are particular about their hair.

This brilliant styling brush smooths out hair, dries it without frizziness, and frees up your bathroom while keeping your tweens happy and styled (or happily styled).

Your aspiring DJ will be (almost) ready to go pro with this set.

This easy-to-use controller teaches kids to mix and 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.

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.

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.

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 is a really cool toy for kids who are interested in photography and art but also don’t want a super high barrier of entry.

This bow and arrow set launches arrows a stunning 125 feet.

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 125 feet when launched.

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.

Kids who are into art will dig this 3D pen, which lets them doodle flat or draw up.

If kids can think it up, they can create it, using this drawing tool. It extrudes soft, malleable plastic that stays suspended in place as it cools, bringing cats and cars and unicorns to life.

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, an obscure game that you’ve probably never heard of. (We kid.) And because it doesn’t use batteries, kids — or you, let’s be real — can use this thing for hours.

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, he or she will 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. This is the perfect birthday gift idea for the crafty kid that wants to get into DIY but doesn’t know where to start.

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 built-in GPS — that help kids capture steady, clear visuals, and prevent crashes that would end all of the fun.

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, a unique toy for an aspiring NASA employee, 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.

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