Gift Suggestions for Teens

Have you ever seen the comic strip “Zits”? It is about a teen named Jeremy (age 15 or 16) and his parents. One year at Christmas, the strip showed the family surrounded by their gifts and wrapping paper. Jeremy is holding all of his bounty in one hand: a stack of gift cards. He looks glum.

Of course, gift cards can be nice for teens, and I will mention a few below, but it is always nice to have a few colorfully wrapped gifts under the tree, too….something to wear/read/watch/play with after Christmas breakfast.

I asked my daughter and son (ages 16 and 13, respectively) for help with this list, and thereby also received some shopping ideas for their own presents!

Electronic stuff:

I am not going to be able to come up with anything new here, probably. I try to discourage electronics at our house, though we do have a few. But a nice stocking stuffer for your teen, if you are an expat, could be a plug adapter for the plugs in your home country. My daughter kept absconding with mine on a recent trip, and I realized that she needed one of her own.

And though the Luddite in me says, “Why does everyone need to film everything?” I will go ahead and say that I am sure my son would like a GoPro (his father has a camera that he straps onto his ski and bike helmets). He probably won’t get one, but I suspect most teens would enjoy them.

Do people buy DVDs anymore? We do, actually. I like to surprise my kids with seasons of beloved TV shows or movies they perhaps have never heard of but would love (last year I gave my daughter “Sense and Sensibility” with Emma Thompson and Kate Winslet, etc.), and my son got the first four seasons of the Doctor Who reboot. Maybe you think this is laughably old-fashioned, but I believe in having some non-“cloud” entertainment in the house (or maybe you don’t find it old-fashioned and you’re wondering, “Cloud?”). I would even buy a music CD if I were sure the kid would love it. Classic movies on DVD can be a nice gift: “Gone With the Wind,” or some Cary Grant, Humphrey Bogart, Katherine Hepburn or Audrey Hepburn titles, perhaps.

I hope my husband won’t buy another drone; I hear those are big this year.

Home Items:

  • Fun, cool or fancy bedding (pillow cases, duvet covers, sheets).
  • Throw pillows (more sophisticated for girls, but boys would probably want something funny).
  • A blanket or afghan to snuggle up in on the sofa (if you can knit or crochet one in favorite colors, it’s even more personal).
  • T-shirt quilt: some crafty parents make t-shirt quilts of a child’s old t-shirts (many websites have directions, e.g., at “Instructables.”), or you can send off the t-shirts to have them professionally made into a quilt. This U.S. company makes them, for example.
  • Posters, framed pictures or photos.
  • Photo frames.
  • Another thing to make: if you have a sewing machine, get some fabric that would appeal to your teen – perhaps in colors that match his or her bedroom – and polyester stuffing, and sew pillows in the shape of your child’s initials (look online for tips) or other fun shapes.
  • A cool chair and/or ottoman for the teen’s room.
  • A throw rug.
  • String of lights in interesting shapes (hearts, stars, cacti, what have you).
  • Cooking equipment and recipes/cookbooks
  • Monogrammed towel set.


  • T-shirts and other gear from favorite sports teams. Official football jerseys are great for football/soccer fans (make sure you choose a team they love, of course).
  • Clothing items that are maybe more luxurious than you would usually buy. My daughter has been hinting around for a simple cashmere sweater. I have one (from Manor), and she wore it one day and fell in love.
  • Sports clothes/gear: a new ski jacket, extra pair of gloves, new ski goggles or swim goggles, that special breathable shirt for jogging (that costs 20 francs more than you usually consider sensible).
  • Girls seem to really enjoy fun socks. At least, the ones in my family do.
  • The Uggs or Converse or Doc Martens that your teen has been coveting (best if their feet are finished growing, of course). Or even the cheaper, knockoff version (if the feet are still growing or your teen is hard on shoes). A couple of years ago, my sister gave my daughter fake Uggs (or “Fuggs”) for Christmas. She loved them, and, bought in the U.S., they were a very reasonable price.
  • Bathrobe, stylish pajamas (think sleepovers and school trips).

Craft Items:

Does your teen like to knit or sew? Yarn, fabric, or a gift certificate to a yarn/fabric store would be welcome, as nice materials can be costly. I have given my daughter skeins of yarn over the years, and she usually knits them into cowls within hours.

Experiential Gifts:

  • Free entry to a Freestyle Park or High Ropes Course, a promise (with tickets) to go to Europapark or another amusement park (with permission to bring a friend, perhaps).
  • Promise or gift certificates for classes: cooking, etc.

Especially for girls:

I don’t want to be sexist, but girls do enjoy receiving makeup and toiletry items (my daughter likes to receive the Clinique skin care regime as a gift, and she ekes it out until the next gift-giving occasion). Also jewelry, purses and scarves – of course. You can use this occasion to give a slightly more expensive item than she can’t afford to buy herself.

Gift cards:

  • Starbucks, McDonald’s, Burger King, and other eateries that they might frequent; this will allow them to save their lunch money, too.
  • Movie vouchers
  • Concert tickets
  • Card for a favorite clothing or clothing shop


I am all for giving books, especially if you are fairly sure of someone’s taste or if you feel you have a right to try to mold their minds (i.e., the recipient is your child). I’m planning to give my kids some George Orwell for Christmas (don’t tell them), so they can experience an older dystopian vision than the ones they’ve encountered in, for example, The Hunger Games trilogy. Classic authors like Jane Austen, Daphne DuMaurier (my daughter read Rebecca this year and loved it) and Ray Bradbury and titles like Sherlock Holmes, Jane Eyre, and Wuthering Heights could open another literary door for your kids. See also our book list for teens.

That is all I can think of for now; I’m becoming anxious to get my own shopping finished. I am sure I have missed many tremendous ideas, so do feel free to leave yours in the comments (maybe you will have the perfect idea for one of my teens).

By Carol McDonald

Carol has lived in Zurich for 16 years and is pleased that her teenagers still enjoy Advent calendars (this year they are sharing a Lego Stars Wars one and a chocolate one).

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