As the tween years go, this one can be a doozy. Twelve-year-olds are toeing the line between being a child and being a teen—and being on the cusp of young adulthood is both exciting and, well, a lot. So, buckle up! The ride might get bumpy. But also, 12-year-olds might be notoriously fickle when it comes to presents. At this age, the primary focus should be finding what excites and inspires your tween by looking for cool gifts for boys or girls. Have they moved more firmly into YA territory? Have they started journaling, learning how to play an instrument, or committed to playing a sport? How can you foster their burgeoning sense of self and growing independence? Now, take those things and turn them into a birthday gift.
Since that’s obviously easier said than done, we asked Dr. Husain and a host of other experts to share their thoughts on the best gifts for this age. With all these recommendations in mind, we’ve curated a list of the best gifts and toys for the 12-year-old boys and girls who has everything.
Important note: At 12 years of age, most children have begun puberty. “This may also be a time when your pre-teen begins to face peer pressure and thinks of staying at home as boring, which can translate into mood swings and short tempers with parents,” cautioned Dr. Syeda Amna Husain, M.D., FAAP, of Pure Direct Pediatrics.
Hobby-Specific Gifts for Tweens
“As children begin to focus more on their body image and clothing, we see confidence can be greatly affected,” said Dr. Husain. “At this age, you may notice when your child isn’t happy about just any new toy but wants it to be something specific to their interests. Take the time to learn and ask your child what those interests are.” This makes hobby-specific gifts (think an art kit for the 12-year-old who is always doodling, or a lyric book for the budding songwriter) a no-brainer for this age.
Know a budding photographer with a creative eye and the skills to match? Easy as point and shoot, this Canon IVY CLIQ Instant Camera Printer is guaranteed to be a hit with your preteen. Not only does it come in a fun selection of colorways (you won’t be able to choose between the ladybug red, seaside blue, and bumblebee yellow), but it’s super compact and great for travel. From summer camp to a family vacay to a fun weekend with friends, the possibilities are endless. This pocket-friendly camera also has a built-in printer (no ink cartridges required) so that your kid can have instantaneous results. There’s no film to develop—simply shoot, print, and stick (ahem, each of the photos has a peel-and-stick backing) for memories that will last a lifetime. This fancy little camera produces damn good results. In the rare event that your 12-year-old wants a photo op with mom or dad (keep dreaming), it even has a selfie mirror and auto flash.
America’s Test Kitchen is bringing their scientific know-how, rigorous testing, and hands-on learning to KIDS in the kitchen! We can’t thank them enough for that. Just think, moms: What a luxury it would be to come home to a home-cooked meal—or better yet, wake up to a Sunday brunch—prepped and executed by your lovely preteens?! These kid-approved recipes for breakfast, snacks and beverages, dinners, and desserts, were tested by more than 750 kids, so get yours to start cooking stat. There’s nothing more empowering than having the skill and knowledge to whip up breakfast tacos in a jiffy. Who knows? Beyond having the confidence to measure out recipes, your preteen may discover a secret passion for cooking (Rachael Ray, watch out!). Says this mama on Amazon: “This was delivered on Friday and I woke up to avocado toast prepared by my 10-year-old on Sunday. She adores this cookbook and I am 100% here for my child cooking for me for a change! This book has boosted her confidence and encouraged her to try new things—Saturday night she made tofu and green beans! You will not be disappointed with this book.”
Got a kid who loves miniature model ships? Oh boy, do we! This advanced LEGO Ideas Ship in a Bottle Kit includes 962 pieces and a display stand with a nameplate. It also includes a buildable cork, wax seal, cannons, sails, and a non-working compass. Once the masterpiece has been built, it’ll look hella cool on a bookshelf or in your kid’s bedroom. Let your little builder’s imagination soar by giving them this set to stretch their creative muscles. Cue the nostalgia: Kids of ALL ages will want to partake in the fun. If anything, you can bet on them putting their phone/tablet down for an entire afternoon. This grandma raves, “This was a gift to my 9-year-old grandson—a super Lego fan. He breezed along until he stumbled a bit on the bottle construction. A few days later he was back to conquer it. I’m so proud of his perseverance and happy to have been the gift giver of this wonderful project!”
Independent “Play” Gifts for Tweens
“Children at this age are also becoming more aware of seeking independence,” said Dr. Husain. So, think about presents that might foster their increased need for space and self-sufficiency—gifts that will make them feel more grown-up. For example, if your child likes to be in the kitchen and get involved with cooking, consider some baking or cooking kits.
Surely, you can remember the anticipation and excitement that your first Easy-Bake Oven brought you. Make baking fun with this Rainbows and Unicorns Handstand Kitchen Baking Party Kit that includes 7 fairy tale cookie cutters, 1 unicorn-shaped silicone cupcake mold (makes 6 cupcakes), 1 frosting bag with 3 frosting tips, and a recipe leaflet and sticker sheet. For an afternoon well-spent, you and your 12-year-old will have a blast whipping up something magically delicious (and hopefully topped with sprinkles). This Amazon customer shares, “My daughter loves this baking set. It’s cute but definitely does the job. My daughter is 9-yrs-old and loves to bake and decorate cakes, treats, etc.” Who needs Home Economics when you can teach your preteens hands-on learning at home in the kitchen. From measuring out recipes to delegating work (you do the measuring, I’ll whip up the vanilla buttercream frosting), they’ll learn the value of teamwork.
Sports & Exercise Gear for Tweens
While gifts that encourage physical activity are great at practically any age, they’re a smart pick for your 12-year-old — for both physical health and another lesser-considered reason. Board-certified pediatrician Dr. Tanya Altmann says that, in general, children and adolescent teens need 10 to 12 hours of sleep every night so they can function properly during the day. But, according to the CDC, six out of 10 middle schoolers don’t get enough sleep each night. “And when they get fewer hours, especially over time, it builds up in their body as a sleep deprivation that can affect their growth, development, and ability to learn at school,” emphasized Altmann. One solution? “Make sure your child is active during the day so they are tired at bedtime,” she advised. “Not only is daily physical activity important for the brain and body, being active during the day will help kids fall asleep faster at night.”
“Capture the flag” after dark? Sounds more like “Where the hell is the flag?” Not with this update on a classic game that includes 25 light-up game pieces, 12+ hours of batteries, and 12 different ways to play! Get ready for your 12-year-old’s competitive spirit to shine through with this Glow-in-The-Dark Redux edition. To get started, pick your teams, mark the territories and jails, hide the orb (AKA, the flag), and go play. Last step: Scream victory! While there’s nothing wrong with a little healthy competition, a rousing game of Capture the Flag will also teach your tribe valuable lessons in teamwork, strategy, and social skills. If your teen is a bit shy around new neighborhood friends, this summer camp-approved game is sure to break the ice. Up for a challenge? This kit also offers other game options including “Ghosts in the Graveyard,” “Fugitive,” and “Ninja.”
It doesn’t take too much effort to keep your pre-teenagers entertained but it sure helps when the activity is challenging or new-to-them. Introducing Spikeball, as seen on Shark Tank, a net sport (partially inspired by volleyball) that’s sweeping the nation. Perhaps best known for their fluorescent yellow balls, this highly competitive sport is great for the beach, your backyard, or a lawn party—basically anywhere but indoors (sorry, not sorry, but the living room is off-limits). Fear not if you know sh*t about Spikeball… within 10 minutes the entire family will be playing like pros. The net can be adjusted according to the level of talent at play—more bounce for new players and less bounce for advanced teams. Again, we can’t stress the fun factor enough. This Amazon customer raves, “First-time Spikeballers and we are addicted!!! Fun for all ages and levels. We’ve played with 5 yrs old to 65 yrs old. Even a pregnant mom. Easy to take apart and pack up.” If grammie can play Spikeball, then you sure as hell can too, mama!
Expressive Gifts for Tweens
According to board-certified child educator and teacher Nancy Poznansky, children this age become “quite independent in designing their own bedrooms.” As a rule of thumb, 12-year-olds are experimenting more and more with self-expression. Think about their bedroom, the clothes they wear, their locker at school — try to find gifts that help them express who they are in those seminal (to them) spaces.
These magical string lights are a beautiful and unique way to decorate a tween’s room. They can be twisted into letters or just hung from the wall to create a bright and warm ambiance. Upon moving into a new bedroom of their own, one of the first things your sophisticated 12-year-old will want to do is mark his or her territory. That includes playing up the feng shui of their space and hanging up fairy lights for a bit of intimacy. As seen on Pinterest, preteens low-key love to decorate with instant photos. Once the string lights have been installed, use miniature wood clothespins to create a gallery wall. Moms have spoken, “These were a hit with our teen! Lights have several different settings and they are long enough to go around her entire room! The remote is small, but put a velcro strip on the back to attach to the side of a bed-side-table or bed.”
Books & Journals for Tweens
Not surprisingly, your almost-teen might like holing up in their room or wandering off for a bit of soliBest Toys & Girls For 12 Year Old Boys & Girls According To Experttude. So, give them something they may gravitate toward when they crave alone time. “Books and journals are also popular among this age group and with the emerging independent tendencies,” Dr. Husain told Scary Mommy.
Create a scrapbook or journal that satisfies the inner creativity of your writer/artist. This Journal Craft Kit from our friends at Kid Made Modern includes a 250-page notebook, markers, pen, glitter tape, paper rolls, sticker sheets, and a storage box. Can we just take a second to appreciate the convenience factor here, moms? Instead of having to hit up your local crafts store for a bazillion scrapbooking supplies, this kit contains everything your preteen will need to create a masterpiece. From curating vision boards to doodling away for hours, they’ll never be able to complain about being bored again. We especially recommend this great gift for kids who aren’t confident in their creative skillset. We’re all artists here—the power of self-expression, and imagination is not measured by skills per se, but creativity. Beyond drawings, this journal can also be used as just that—a journal to record daily musings and poems.
Need help finding a gift for your picky teenager or preteen? Take a gander at our gift and toy guides for kids of all ages!