Holiday gift ideas for teens, young adults
Dear Readers: Here it is again, folks — the "Teens-n-Twenties" shopping list that's direct from the source. I probably sound like a broken record, but I continue my progressive advice to think outside the box (or, in this case, the flat screen) and avoid addicting and social skills-depriving gifts such as video games — or TVs and computers for the bedroom.
Laptop computers are essential for college but are known to abruptly end family life when given to high school students. Think instead about upgrading the family desktop station so your teens don't become "missing persons" in their bedrooms.
Imaginary friends were fine when they were toddlers, but interactions with "imaginary Internet friends" are best kept to the public rooms of the house.
Ditto for holding off on smartphones until senior year. There are plenty of great (non-Internet) cellphones that call, text and take photos — with no monthly fee. Be strong and, ironically, ahead of the curve.
At the bottom of today's column, we've compiled the top tech gifts, games and books for young people — all panel recommended. Happy shopping! — Lauren
Brandon, 20, Mapleton, Maine: Best tip: Ask people what they want. Give cash. Gift cards get lost or lie around. For kids who can't be trusted with cash, Walmart, Amazon and eBay cards offer the best selection and deals.
Regarding books, consider an e-reader. Buying books, including textbooks, is cheaper in e-version. College-student ideas: water-filter pitchers, prepaid cellphone cards, healthy flavorful snacks, paper plates. Favorite game: Nintendo Wii U. Favorite clothes store: Express.
Hannah, 18, Safford, Ariz.: Books make great gifts. "The Hobbit," "Les Miserables" and "Life of Pi" are great books coming out as movies this year — and much better than the movies.
Taylor, 15, Santa Rosa: I'm into photography, so I'd like a camera strap, lens and tripod. Additional ideas: iPod charger, headphones, mini-fridge, money for clothes and shoes. Less-expensive: makeup, slippers, leg warmers, coffee mug, high school sweatshirt. Best gift cards: Forever 21, iTunes, Target, Starbucks. (Avoid spend-anywhere credit cards; they usually have activation fees.) Top books: "The Hunger Games" and "The Host."
Colin, 19, Los Angeles: I would like a less materialistic society. I prefer books, audio/video courses, magazines, charity or cash. Desired book: "Passage of Power," President LBJ's biography.
Brennan, 19, Colorado Springs, Colo.: I like gift cards to outdoor stores (REI, Sports Authority, etc.). I combine them with sales to get the high-end jacket, backpack and skis I've been wanting. Even better, take me shopping there. Desired book: Hemingway's collected works.
Nicole, 23, Santa Rosa: For young people on their own, you can't beat local, organic food. All health food stores have gift cards. Favorite books: "The Alchemist" and "The Prophet."
Molly, 20, Berkeley: Things like a good vacuum, iron or kitchen knives would be great. Best is to ask. We don't care about being surprised as much as having something we really could use. My mom got me some boots early. It was great because I picked them out, thus, I love them. (Thanks, Mom!)
Top tech gifts, games and books
Smartphones: Most youth-preferred: iPhone. Price, monthly charges equivalent to rival Droid.
Computers: College students want laptops, not desktops or tablets. Top in cool: 13" Macbook Pro (workhorse, $1,200). Best for price: 14" Lenovo ThinkPad Edge E430 ($500, super quality, rugged).
MP3 music players: iPod most popular, but Sansa Clip also popular, great reviews, $35.
Cameras: Kodak Easy Share Sport ($105, underwater, quick-share to email, Facebook).
E-reader: Kindle Paperwhite (best dedicated reader, worth the $119).
Watches: Casio Pathfinder, best sport watch.
Top card games: Taboo, Apples to Apples, Cards Against Humanity (older teens).
Board games: Game of Thrones, Settlers of Catan, Scrabble (and Scrabble e-dictionary).
More favorite books:
Boys' favorite books, in no particular order: "Song of Fire and Ice" (series) — (includes Book 1: "Game of Thrones"), "Harry Potter," "Wheel of Time" (series), "The Hobbit," "Life of Pi," "DaVinci Code," "Kite Runner," "The River Why," "Outliers," "Power of One," "Confederacy of Dunces," "The Sun also Rises," "East of Eden," "Infinite Jest," "The Sound and the Fury," "Into the Wild," "Lord of the Flies," anything by Tom Robbins, Ernest Hemingway.
Girls' favorite books, in no particular order: "The Hobbit," "Les Miserables," "Life of Pi," "Letters to a Young Poet" (older teens), "Water for Elephants," "The Alchemist," "The Prophet," "The Red Tent," "Cannery Row," "Siddhartha," "Memoirs of a Geisha," "Perzival," "Bel Canto," "Garden of Eden," "Love Walked In," "The Scarlet Letter," "Secret Life of Bees," "The Help," "Tess of the D'urbervilles," "Love in the Time of Cholera," "Harry Potter," "Hunger Games," "Twilight," "The Host," "Game of Thrones" (older teens).
Other great ideas from the panel: Car breakdown kit, gas card, shampoo, movie passes, utility knife, bicycle, other sporting goods per recipient's interest, underwear and socks (these really are highly requested by boys, but usually the boy is particular about them; ask Mom). Warning: clothes are a top gift, especially for girls, but except for accessories, all are high-risk to purchase without the recipient by your side.
Editor's Note: About those gift cards… Brandon is correct that most are lost or lie around. This is the estimated fate of about 50 percent of gift cards given to youth, especially when given to boys. I witnessed it with my own teen sons. Cash is a better option unless, as Brandon says, the kid "can't be trusted with cash." And many can't. Check with parents. If grades are low, chances are the teen is involved in drugs, alcohol or other addictive behaviors.
Best: take the young person shopping and get to know him or her. If that's not possible, consider a gift of tutoring, counseling, extracurricular classes such as singing lessons, dance, fencing, weight lifting, or a gym membership. One year, two different panelists recommended the Landmark Forum as a great gift. Another recommended study abroad for a college student.
Don't worry if funds are tight, the best gift of all is active involvement in a young person's life. Regular phone calls if you live remotely totally qualify. Members of this generation tend to like family, so don't be shy! If you're a regular reader you know plenty about their world to start a conversation. — Lauren
Lauren Forcella co-writes Straight Talk TNT with a panel of more than 70 teens and young adults. To ask a question or become a panelist, click StraightTalkTNT.com or write to P.O. Box 963, Fair Oaks, CA 95628.