My teenager was invited to a birthday party last week. This was new ground. It was the first party without a paper invitation, the first party where I’ve wondered if there would be chaperones and whether I might like to call the parents to see if our philosophies match on topics such as liquor and supervision.
The gift was its own problem. Littler kids like a lot of things, and there are a lot of other things they’d enjoy trying even if they didn’t end up liking them. If I’m in doubt, I feel like I can always fall back on a Melissa and Doug coloring/sticker bundle and fancy coloring implements.
The older kids at my house are definitely harder to buy for, and SOMEONE ELSE’S older kid seems almost impossible. And what if presents aren’t really COOL anymore, or the wrapping paper is stupid, or the gift is embarrassingly too young (”Here, sonny, I got you this jigsaw puzzle of puppies!”). *fret fret fret* But eventually I thought I would just try to do what I would do for my own 13-year-old and not worry too much about it—and if I made some sort of Grievous Error, Rob could just roll his eyes and say “MOTHERS!” and the other boys would make scoffy noises and say “I know, right?”
Prismacolor Manga Colored Pencil Set (photo from Amazon.com). This falls into the category of “But what if he doesn’t LIKE drawing?” By age 14, it seems like kids know if they’re interested in art supplies or not. But on the other hand, I like the way these are a Sensible, Mommish gift (”Colored pencils! You can use them to illustrate your college applications! And they’re GOOD QUALITY, too!”), while still having a Cool Teenagery element (”MANGA BABES”).
MP3 gift card (photo from Amazon.com). This gift assumes an MP3 player, which some kids might not have despite my child assuring me that EVERYONE has one. BUT! Here is the good part! The card LOOKS like “here, I bought you some songs,” but it’s ACTUALLY a regular Amazon gift card decorated with an MP3 theme. So if he DOESN’T have an MP3 player, he can use this for whatever.
Or I might get a birthday-themed gift card to a local store (photo from Target.com). I like the way this communicates “Look, I don’t know what your parents let you have or whatevs, so let’s put the responsibility for this purchase right back on YOU, young man.” The online Target card has to be certain amounts ($5, $10, and then it skips right to $25), but in-store you can get any amount; I might do something like a dollar for every year of age, or maybe I’d just get a nice round $15.
I asked Rob what HE thought he should get for his friend, and he said “a hardcover Stephen King book.” Well. Okay, but here is the thing: PROBABLY this teenager reads Stephen King with the full support and knowledge of his parents. But I don’t KNOW that. And if they DON’T support it, it’s a terrible gift; and even if they DO support it, it’s would seem like a pretty risky gift from another parent who doesn’t know if they support it or not; and also, he could easily already have a copy of whatever I chose.
So here’s what we settled on: a hardcover copy of Stephen King’s non-fiction book about how to write: On Writing (photo from Amazon.com). It’s recently been published in a 10th anniversary edition, so that makes it a little extra special. It’s a book by his favorite writer, but it’s educational; even if the parents don’t approve of the Stephen King hobby, they may approve of the idea of channeling that interest into something productive and creative. And if he DOES already own it, or if the parents DON’T like it, or if the TEENAGER doesn’t like it—well, it’s just one present at a birthday party.
Have you come up with any good ideas for birthday gifts for Unknown Teenagers? I’m starting to think a gift card is the best ever: at this age the money still seems like more to them than it does to me, and then they can get whatever they want—and with whatever level of parental supervision their parents feel is appropriate.