It’s not only difficult being a teenager, it’s difficult to know what to buy for a teenager as a gift. Your teens are a complicated time in life. You’re straddled on a tightrope somewhere between your childhood and adulthood. It’s a time when you are expected to behave more and more like an adult, yet you’re continually treated as a child. It’s a time of breaking down boundaries and new experiences. Every new emotion you come across is magnified beyond belief – like the first time you eat a chilli – it feels unbearably hot, but after eating them over a long time, you get so used to them you don’t really notice the heat any more. You’re constantly pushed by parents and schools to succeed, yet the chances are neither your parents nor your school have any idea how to achieve success. You have to stand up against bullies and stop yourself from becoming a bully at the same time. On top of all that, your body is changing, your hormones are going crazy and… when did life stop being fun? Does it get better?
There was a time when there was no such thing as a teenager. People aged from one to twelve and then at their next birthday, they turned twenty. Actually, that’s not true – of course they turned thirteen. But they weren’t a teenager according to the modern implications of the word – they were now a young adult. They would go to work, take on responsibilities, play their part in looking after the household and their younger siblings, do the grocery shopping and so on. Within a couple of years they would be married, looking for a home of their own and planning a family of their own.
The line that can be drawn between childhood and adulthood is thick and blurry, and varies from person to person, but there is a moment when we can look at a young person and say that, now, they are the youngest of adults. And this happens sometime in their teenage years. When it does, it means you should start treating them as adults. This doesn’t mean you can expect them to handle tasks that older adults can – as yet they don’t have the knowledge or experience to deal with adult life fully, but neither does it mean that they have to stop having fun. Adults love to have fun just as much as kids do, so don’t criticize a teenager for playing a game or laughing at something silly.
When it comes to gifts, however, steer clear of silly stuff. Gifts for birthdays and other special events are highly anticipated and are loaded with unspoken messages. If you tell a fourteen year-old all year that they should act more mature, take their studies seriously, help out around the house, for example, and then for their fifteenth birthday, you buy them a video game in which they take on the role of a completely irresponsible psychopath who goes around shooting strangers and police, carjacking and hitting up mom & pop stores – you’re sending completely mixed messages and the teenager is likely to stop listening to you. Childish gifts promote childish behavior.
Much better are gifts which the recipient can use to learn and create with. Gifts which help them to acquire new, useful skills for the future. Practicing using them is the same as practicing for adulthood. For example, a quite wonderful gift for a teenager might be a greenhouse. It’s their own private space where they can independently grow and nurture the plants, vegetables and flowers of their choice. They can be creative, they can learn and they can feel genuine pride and satisfaction with the achievements they make.
A greenhouse, however, is quite extravagant. Smaller gifts along the same lines might include power tools (to decide what’s appropriate, there are more details at Drills and Drivers), a mechanics tool set (and an motor to fix up), cooking classes, computer games involving strategic planning such as the Sim City series, economic simulation games, Minecraft and so on. Games which encourage people to write their own code are great, too. Be careful to avoid anything too difficult or – and this is key – too boring.