Unusual birthday presents for 15 year old boy
August 21, 2014 7:59 PM   Subscribe

We're stumped. He's turning 15 and our budget is $100.

We don't want to get him a smartphone upgrade until Christmas, he has a watch and wallet he likes, and a separate clothes/shoe budget he hasn't used up yet. He has social anxiety, so an experience gift like tickets somewhere would not work. Books don't work because we buy any book requested automatically. So far his suggestions, none of which he's particularly keen on are: a second-hand bicycle, the new SIMS game, or a guinea pig pet. He likes listening to music, drawing (has lots of art materials already), no other big hobbies, and is generally a homebody. Posted with his permission.
posted by viggorlijah to Shopping (41 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
Not unusual, but I suggest some good headphones, particularly if he listens to lots of music.

Here's the Wirecutter on the best $100 in-ear headphones. CNET best headphones for $100 (in-ear and over ear). CNET best over-ear headphones.
posted by His thoughts were red thoughts at 8:06 PM on August 21, 2014 [2 favorites]

Does he have _framing_ materials to really show off and preserve his art? Maybe a mat cutter (I'm thinking about this because I'm about to cut a mat to put some art in a pre-made frame -- you can get frames at flea markets, but the mat lets you fit the art in the frame precisely).

Not all experiences are social; you could take him to visit an animal park, for example (I was taken to a tiger/big cat rescue preserve one year and it was really cool - we did have to stay with the tour, though).

Also, you know how giving a really good gift can make you feel wonderful? He could choose a cause that he cares about, and give $100 to that cause. He could research different organizations until he found the one he wants to support with his gift.
posted by amtho at 8:11 PM on August 21, 2014 [1 favorite]

I don't know exactly how you are feeling about the guinea pig, but for someone with social anxiety, sometimes a pet can be a good friend. In terms of music, that's a lot of music credit for online purchases or even physical media (CDs). If he has a smartphone already, this might not be needed, but an MP3 player? Also, it's less personal, but one of my favorite things is actually Amazon gift credit. I have a whole lot of fun either spending it or saving it for a bigger purchase later.
posted by SpacemanStix at 8:13 PM on August 21, 2014

I would not recommend buying a live animal for a teenager who is not that excited about owning one. Unless YOU really want to take care of a guinea pig?
posted by horizons at 8:17 PM on August 21, 2014 [9 favorites]

A GPS thingy for geocaching and a willingness to go with him?
posted by Lyn Never at 8:22 PM on August 21, 2014 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Sorry, forgot to add we have a pet cat and dog, both of whom he takes care of and plays with, but who aren't "his" pets. He really wants a rabbit, but because of the other two pets, I don't think it's fair to a rabbit to have to co-exist with them, so a guinea pig is the compromise.
posted by viggorlijah at 8:23 PM on August 21, 2014

I got my 14 year old arty daughter the digitized Sketchbook Project notebook. She's had a good time planning it and working on it.
posted by gnomeloaf at 8:27 PM on August 21, 2014

Late summer birthday for a not-very-sociable teen? I feel that. What about a solid $100 IOU for him to cash in on something at any point in the next year? Suggest that during the school year he use it for concert or movie tickets with his friends (some of whom probably wouldn't be able to pay their share), but you never know what a kid's going to suddenly have a mighty need for once school kicks in.
posted by Mizu at 8:39 PM on August 21, 2014 [3 favorites]

Is he interested in playing music? Around here you can buy a used guitar, keyboard, or uke for under $100.

Smart call on the rabbit. Did you know they can live 10+ years? (I did not know! And then my rabbit lived 10+ years!)
posted by mochapickle at 8:39 PM on August 21, 2014 [1 favorite]

Does he have any money of his own? Put the $100 toward a second-hand bicycle and he can come up with the differences. ($50)?
posted by ablazingsaddle at 8:43 PM on August 21, 2014

Virtual Reality Goggles for smartphone. Lots of discussion about apps for it on the official community for Google Cardboard & VR developers.
A Leap Motion is also cool.
posted by Sophont at 8:45 PM on August 21, 2014 [1 favorite]

Is he interested in photography at all? You can get a nice digital camera for around $100 now. It's also helpful if he's into art so he can take pictures of stuff he wants to draw later.

What about a few REALLY big canvases? I would have LOVED a huge canvas at his age because spending $60 or more on one seemed crazy to me.

Does he need nice headphones or a music player?

What about a subscription to an art magazine? Or are there local art classes taught anywhere? If he's a homebody maybe one that does small groups.
posted by Crystalinne at 8:59 PM on August 21, 2014

cheap quadcopter w/ camera?
arduino kit
posted by bottlebrushtree at 9:03 PM on August 21, 2014 [3 favorites]

I'd give him the $100 in cash, a sappy card and take him out to eat somewhere where the food is abundant. The $100 will come in handy at some point when he finally figures out what to do with it (such as buying apps for his future smartphone).

Note about Guinea pigs and pets for teens in general: Guinea pigs aren't really happy in the tiny cages pet shops like to sell as guinea pig appropriate. They are also very social creatures and are happier with at least one other 'pig. More about guinea pigs here (my favorite cavy site), perhaps your son could research their care and decide if he's able to offer them the most caring environment possible. Also, as a mom of a kid about the same age, something I keep in mind whenever my son is eager to adopt yet another critter (yesterday it was a crayfish, last week it was a tarantula) is that the life span of most pets exceeds the time until our kids are likely moving away for college and dorms don't typically allow pets.
posted by jamaro at 9:09 PM on August 21, 2014 [1 favorite]

A small aquarium? Maybe with glow in the dark fish or get the aquarium along with a how to book and let him decorate and choose the fish. There are lots of questions on here about beginner aquariums. Or, these look interesting and easy.

Or check out Think Geek
and Edmund Scientific for lots of other ideas.
posted by BoscosMom at 9:55 PM on August 21, 2014

I would suggest a chinchilla rather than a guinea pig. Guinea pigs should be kept in pairs because they are social animals and not happy alone. The proper cage fills up an 8-foot long banquet table. They need to have their nails trimmed regularly and they need fresh vegetables twice a day. They are a lot of work for little animals and in my opinion, they tend to be rather boring pets (I have two of them). They poop a lot. And yes, the cavyspirit site is THE guinea pig info source.

What about a really nice leather-bound sketchbook or journal? I have seen these in person at art shows and they are really wonderful.
posted by Ostara at 9:59 PM on August 21, 2014

Kindle. Speakers with dock for his smartphone.
posted by kjs4 at 10:11 PM on August 21, 2014

wacom tablet?
posted by koroshiya at 10:19 PM on August 21, 2014 [5 favorites]

This might be cool for a kid who likes to draw... On the Think Geek site cause now I've been sucked into it.
posted by BoscosMom at 10:31 PM on August 21, 2014

Introducing Cats and Rabbits to each other.
The dog advice is semi-identical.

If he wants a rabbit, yeah, why get a guinea pig?
But, not sure I'd recommend Rabbits. I mean, the time I took a rabbit on a walk through a park on a leash was pretty hilarious, but, they're less domesticated than many other pets, which means they're usually less interested in humans. Fair enough.
posted by Elysum at 11:17 PM on August 21, 2014

I have a boy turning the same age, and on my Consideration List are: Pebble watch (but it does so much more, plus can be made to look like a Mario screen); those join the dot puzzles that have hundreds of numbers; and a sewn by me 8' plush squid. It's a tricky age. When my other one was 15, I think we did spendy pocket knife.
posted by thylacinthine at 12:10 AM on August 22, 2014

Seconding a Wacom, if he likes drawing and doesn't have one-- it's essential kit for anyone into illustration these days. I think the smallest one is about a hundred bucks, and you might find a refurbished bigger one. Caveat: you really also need a scanner (you scan in your paper drawings and clean/colour them digitally), so not ideal if there isn't one around the house or as part of your printer.
posted by Erasmouse at 1:01 AM on August 22, 2014 [2 favorites]

A years subscription to spotify premium? All the music you can wrap your ears around for twelve months!
posted by Ned G at 1:27 AM on August 22, 2014 [1 favorite]

I also recommend the Wacom tablet.

Is there a current artist he admires? A lot of artists do take commissions and $100 is probably plenty (depending on who it is). That might be a cool, inspirational thing for him.
posted by darksong at 3:35 AM on August 22, 2014

$100 worth of horse riding.
Not social and maybe only enough to cover 2 very good hours on a good horse, riding in a beautiful place, but it could be an unforgettable present if he has not had contact with such a large and loving animal before.
posted by Kerasia at 4:53 AM on August 22, 2014 [1 favorite]

I gave my 15 year old 2 hours of time with a rock climbing instructor and a month of use of the gym(climbing) for $65. He was a bit hesitant at first but now he goes all the time.

I think getting someone an experience is better than an object in most cases. Unless they specifically have their heart set on something.

Maybe an art class, anything a little outside his experience.
posted by Ignorance at 5:26 AM on August 22, 2014 [1 favorite]

Man, when I was his age all I wanted was cold hard cash. If I didn't want anything in particular (which is what I'm assuming is the case with your kid here) I at least wanted the freedom to spend my birthday money however I wanted rather than wind up with something I wasn't really into and ultimately never used.
posted by fox problems at 5:28 AM on August 22, 2014

If you think he would make a good pet owner, and you know your son better than us I'd suggest a pet rat over a guinea pig. I absolutely adored my guinea pigs, the last one only passed away a couple of months ago, and while they are way smarter than people think rats are like little dogs and are a lot more interactive. To live a healthy life a g/pig needs a lot more space than a small cage, and while ratties need their space too you can make their space vertical as they love to climb, hang out in hammocks etc, they also like to snuggle & can be taught tricks. They are no more work than a guinea pig and they love to free run around a safely secured room when tame. The down side is they have shorter life spans, but to be practical about it if he's going off to college in few years do you want to be looking after his guinea pig for years after he's gone. My pigs have lived up to 7 years, my oldest lived rat was just over 2.5 years old. They all lived in houses with cats & dogs just fine with sensible precautions.

If you don't already buy him them, serious good quality art supplies, my life was haunted by parents that thought kids craft/art supplies should be as cheap as possible. Take him shopping in an art store, give him a budget and let him fill up his cart with all the cool stuff he's wanted to buy but couldn't.

Gift certificates or cash, specially if he doesn't normally get a lot of pocket money etc.
posted by wwax at 6:23 AM on August 22, 2014

Pogo stick.
posted by The corpse in the library at 7:11 AM on August 22, 2014

Leatherman multitool. You can have his name engraved if desired. I still have mine from ten years ago, leave it in my glovebox so I know where I can always find it, and am often a hero for actually having an appropriate tool for unexpected tasks.
posted by ohcanireally at 7:51 AM on August 22, 2014 [1 favorite]

I also came to suggest a Spotify subscription.

Art - Prismacolor markers or colored pencils, Micron pens.

Left field options - juggling clubs, his own nice hatchet if yous ever do bonfires / camping.
posted by WeekendJen at 10:20 AM on August 22, 2014

If he's into learning something new, I second the juggling supplies idea. (It's easier to start with beanbags or balls than clubs, though) It's a great hobby, challenging, but not overly physical. You can meet great people and learn new routines, or use it to impress girls...

Seconding a Leatherman. I have mine on me at all times. Far handier than you'd think. I like one with a clip so that you can hang it inside your pants pocket.

A really nice set of over-the-ear headphones. (Check out the ones listed over at TheWirecutter. They're ~$90 and outperformed everything else in the sub-$150 category.) Got these for my teenage daughter last Christmas. When I asked her if she liked them, she gave me a double thumbs-up. Pretty sure that's a solid endorsement.

As a homebody myself, I really like my IKEA chair, the Poang. Very durable, VERY comfortable, and fun to assemble. He can use it now, and also break it down and move it when he moves out. ~$100 with the fabric pads, upgrade to leather later on if you want...
posted by Wild_Eep at 11:02 AM on August 22, 2014

Thinkgeek gift card and he can choose his present himself. Choosing is half the fun!
posted by 5_13_23_42_69_666 at 11:53 AM on August 22, 2014

Buddha Board Might be quicker to understand what it is via other people: youtube query: buddha board

Grand Illusions has some unique products.
posted by at at 12:40 PM on August 22, 2014

Order a Dick Blick catalog for him to browse (it's huge and they have an international phone # so I'm guessing they would ship to you or even just for ideas) Does he have watercolor pencils? He needs watercolor pencils. You can get some very cool effects when you brush on some water.
posted by BoscosMom at 1:38 PM on August 22, 2014

For the second year in a row we 'babysat' my co-worker's two guinea pigs for a month this summer. Some of my kids didn't care at all, but some of them were so enamored of the little guys that they never put them down. Now they want to buy one for their own.

If your son likes guinea pigs, I think it might be the perfect choice. You feed them twice a day, keep their water filled, change their cage twice a week, and clip their toenails as needed.
posted by tacodave at 2:05 PM on August 22, 2014

I second the quadcopter suggestion. Get a hobby grade one that can be modified, hacked, and repaired. They also fly better.
posted by aerotive at 6:20 PM on August 22, 2014

Nth-ing headphones, if he doesn't already have a decent set. (It's hard to recommend specific examples without knowing what music he likes, and where he listens to his music...for a general resource, the head-fi forums has plenty of info and advice on the subject.)

Is your son interested in audio recording at all? Playing music, or making songs/audio projects, or podcasting, or experimenting with recorded sounds or sound effects in general? Multi-tracking software can be downloaded for free these days for any major OS; your budget would cover the cost of a decent (to start) USB microphone. This would work if he already has some headphones...you might be able to squeeze in a decent mic & decent headphones if they're on sale.

because of the other two pets, I don't think it's fair to a rabbit to have to co-exist with them, so a guinea pig is the compromise.

Regarding the chinchilla suggestion from earlier in the thread: IANACE (I am not a chinchilla expert) but I've had to take care of one and, I wouldn't be sure about having a chin co-exist with a cat and a dog, either. Also, chinchillas mostly sleep during the day and might not be active when your son is awake, and their housing & supplies (large enough cage, hidey house, large enough wheel, etc.), would definitely exceed your budget if you have to buy them new.

I have to admit though -- chinchillas are really cute! If your son is interested at all (maybe for the future? or just out of curiosity), I recommend checking out the intro/care guides/tips from NOLA Chinchilla Rescue. They also maintain a Facebook page with updates about their rescue work and real-life examples of how to care for chins (and they often say that chins are better as pets for adults rather than kids -- with reasoning similar to what jamaro said earlier about pets & teens). I've found the info helpful, especially since there seems to be a lot conflicting info out there about chins (including from vets and pet stores).
posted by rangefinder 1.4 at 7:25 PM on August 22, 2014

If another pet is the decision, I agree with the suggestion for a rat. Of all the rodent-like pets, rats are the best. Easy to care for, not a lot of space, get along with other pets if you take precautions. Rats are very trainable--we taught ours to walk a tightrope, shake hands, and a few other tricks. Took a lot of treats and some time, along with everyday practice, but that's not bad for a homebody. Gentle handling is the key; the more you handle the rat, the faster they learn. The bad thing about pet store rats is that they are from the same group as lab rats and as such, are bred to grow tumors. That happened to ours, which was a surprise. The vet said it wasn't painful, but would continue to grow and we would know "when it was time." We did. The rat lived about 3 years.

I see kids cruising the neighborhood with rats on their shoulders. Kinda cool.
posted by Nosey Mrs. Rat at 9:31 PM on August 22, 2014 [2 favorites]

Response by poster: We found a local rat breeder who interviewed us and answered questions, then made our son do research first and gave him some more time to consider the responsibility. Tomorrow, we'll be picking up the cage and accessories, then a pair of sister rats about 3-4 months old, as his present. It'll probably come to more than $100, but he is contributing some of his savings, siblings are chipping in and we have agreed to cover the cost of bedding for the first year while he handles food from his pocket money (we don't want him to scrimp on changing the bedding frequently to cut costs). The breeder will accept the rats back to rehome if it doesn't work out, but we think it'll be fine.

Just to note - chinchillas are $300+ where we live, and need air conditioning and get stressed from other pets, I was told, so rats make more sense. He nixed headphones because he's happy with his current ones, the Pebble's bluetooth will drain his batteries and after I explained Spotify, he looked puzzled and explained that youtube grabbing is how he gets all his music, duh. Art materials are out because he figures we'll buy them anyway, which is true.

Thanks for all the suggestions!
posted by viggorlijah at 12:47 AM on August 31, 2014

Response by poster: Here is a picture of the rats, Dean and Sam (Also Elsa and Anna, according to the toddler) who after a month will now cuddle in our hands and come over to eat snacks. They're little babies still and will grow full-size by Christmas. More work than we expected for cleaning but also more delightful, and the 15-year-old is great with them.
posted by viggorlijah at 8:32 PM on October 8, 2014 [2 favorites]

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