What should I give my son for his birthday?
September 19, 2014 2:17 PM   Subscribe

Yes, this is ridiculous, but I'm stumped. My son's 12th birthday is coming up and I have no idea what to give him. He loves Minecraft, Kahn Academy, putting together Spotify playlists, and reading. He doesn't know what he wants, either. Suggestions?

"Don't give him anything" or "Just donate to a charity in his name" are not acceptable: he's 12! I can't think of any "experience" gifts he'd want, either.

Stuff he's loved in the recent past: Lego (we have tons, don't want more), Portal 2 on the Xbox, the Lego Movie game on the Xbox, his pogo stick, pens and graph paper, and Magic: The Gathering. He's not currently into boardgames, but in the past he's liked all the standard German-type games like Ticket To Ride, Carcassone, and Catan. We've played some D&D and he liked it.

Presume he's read any book you can think of for people even remotely close to his age.

He just discovered the Marx Brothers and loves them, didn't like Laurel and Hardy or old Looney Tunes cartoons, didn't have patience for Buster Keaton, kinda liked Charlie Chaplin. He loved the new Cosmos.

He already has use of a computer, good headphones, and an iPod.
posted by anonymous to Shopping (47 answers total) 9 users marked this as a favorite
One of my favorite things as a kid was when my parents would take me and my sister into Barnes & Noble for an evening and just let us run around, pick out a book, and sit and read/play for a few hours. At the end, if I picked a book of merit they would buy it for me. (This was crafty because sometimes I would finish the book while sitting there, so they didn't need to buy anything at all) An extra bonus was when they would get me a cookie from Starbucks. Perhaps an afternoon or evening there would be nice for him, with the added bonus of a gift card to buy something(s) at the end. The nice thing is that they have games, videos, and other knick knacks in addition to books there. It's a nice environment for everyone.
posted by krakus at 2:25 PM on September 19, 2014 [1 favorite]

Take him to a bookstore and treat him to the books he finds and really likes.

Or buy him a Kindle aand give him an Amazon gift card to pick up some books for it. (I will point you to the the current thread on the blue and other prior MeFi discussions on other ways to secure ebooks, which may include your local library.)
posted by bearwife at 2:26 PM on September 19, 2014 [2 favorites]

Kind of cliche, and possibly out of budget, but 12 years old is just about the age when most of my friends starting thinking guitars were the coolest things ever. Only if he's interested, of course.
posted by Think_Long at 2:32 PM on September 19, 2014 [1 favorite]

posted by empath at 2:40 PM on September 19, 2014 [1 favorite]

Is there a trampoline park anywhere near you? They seem to be wildly popular lately, accommodate parties well, and I'm guessing that if your son has the motor skills to handle a pogo stick, he'd enjoy bouncing on a trampoline.
posted by epj at 2:40 PM on September 19, 2014 [1 favorite]

You can put in an order for the Oculus DK2 kit, but it won't be delivered for months, most likely. And it requires a pretty hefty graphics card.
posted by empath at 2:41 PM on September 19, 2014

Makey makey. http://www.makeymakey.com
posted by Sassyfras at 2:45 PM on September 19, 2014 [3 favorites]

I know you said he's read every book, does this include comics? I got bit hard by the comics bug when I was about 12, and 12 is the perfect age to inoculate a kids brain with actually good comics, in order to prevent a love of gross superhero spandex lady-problem comix. Tintin, Carl Barks' Ducktales stuff, etc.

Skateboard? 12 year olds heal fast enough that you can actually work through the scrapes and sprains pretty easily, compared to getting into skating at 16 or whatever.
posted by DGStieber at 2:47 PM on September 19, 2014

Also. Are you aware of game truck parties? Gametruckparty.com. My 11 year old LOVED it. So did his friends.
posted by Sassyfras at 2:49 PM on September 19, 2014 [2 favorites]

I just got my 11 year old nephew this book for his birthday and he was super excited about it. He also loves to read. The Journals of Lewis and Clark. He's on the cusp of being a teenager while still being a kid. So a more serious subject that still had fun connotations (adventure! exploring!) seemed like a good fit for him.
posted by jillithd at 2:49 PM on September 19, 2014

An anatomical model of the heart or brain or eye. Or a skull or skeleton.

The Klutz juggling book. Or the Yo-Yo one, if it's still in print.
posted by themanwho at 2:49 PM on September 19, 2014 [1 favorite]

My 12 year old son with similar interests loves the Lego architecture sets and learning about the landmark buildings. He also loves a trip to the Lego store with a chit from us to fill one of the large containers from he wall of loose bricks.

Has gotten very into the Ian Fleming novels and early James Bond movies.

My parents treat him to his after school art classes as a birthday gift, which he loves.
posted by gateau at 2:50 PM on September 19, 2014 [1 favorite]

If he is into baseball (or any other sport), I would get him Strat-O-Matic. I played hours and hours and hours of it at his age. **cough cough** I hear even 50 year olds like playing too. The board game is what I played as a kid, but the windows version is great for a single player.
posted by 724A at 2:54 PM on September 19, 2014 [1 favorite]

My nephew who has similar interests has recently become obsessed with Star Trek. I couldn't recommend a specific gift, but if he hasn't been introduced to it yet, maybe something to do with that?
posted by kitcat at 2:56 PM on September 19, 2014

+1 for robots and electronics.

Checkout This Arduino Starter kit

If he likes legos, there's even a lego intro to robotics.
posted by justalisteningman at 2:59 PM on September 19, 2014

My daughter just turned 12 and I got her archery supplies. I'd be a risk if he's never tried archery, but she's pretty into it. If you have an archery range nearby maybe more of a good idea?
posted by latkes at 3:02 PM on September 19, 2014 [1 favorite]

Crossley portable turntable and his first album.
posted by caroo at 3:07 PM on September 19, 2014

My son discovered, shortly before his 12th birthday (by which I was equally stumped for a gift), that he'd received a Canadian quarter as part of his change from a recent purchase. He thought that was really cool, and said that he'd never thought about what other countries do for money. Boom, instant gift idea.

The look on his face was priceless, as was the time we spent hip-to-hip, trying to make out teeny tiny writing, then googling to see if our guesses as to the country of origin were correct.
posted by The Almighty Mommy Goddess at 3:08 PM on September 19, 2014

What's your budget?

If you've got a wad of cash to plunk down, he'd probably love a RepRap (3d printer).
posted by jingzuo at 3:10 PM on September 19, 2014

  • A GPS for Geocaching
  • A metal detector
  • A hammock
  • A backyard zipline
  • Camping supplies (lantern, compass, firestarting kit, etc.)
  • A stunt kite
  • Raspberry Pi
  • Marshmallow gun

  • posted by Ostara at 3:12 PM on September 19, 2014

    Swatch Watch!

    Lots of really cool ones, and it's something he can wear every day.

    I'm kind of into this one.

    If you do for a musical instrument, bass is WAY cooler than guitar. Or better yet, a Theramin! I loved my Theramin! I made weird spooky music for HOURS!
    posted by Ruthless Bunny at 3:14 PM on September 19, 2014

    Papercraft stuff? There are books about paper airplanes but also more-complicated paper engineering projects; if he got into it he could build his own little hand-crank paper automata. There are tons of great resources online and books; a couple examples: Karakuri moving paper sculptures or Making things that move.

    Spirograph or some other cool drawing toy?

    Some fun ideas in this recent question: next step for kids who love drawing with the computer.
    posted by LobsterMitten at 3:32 PM on September 19, 2014 [1 favorite]

    A visit to one of those zipline adventure parks for him and his best friend or two.
    posted by Dragonness at 3:39 PM on September 19, 2014 [1 favorite]

    A tube radio!
    posted by Mo Nickels at 3:40 PM on September 19, 2014

    Thames & Kosmos Remote Control Machine seems to fit with his love of Lego.

    On further investigation it seems http://www.thamesandkosmos.com/products/kitsages.html is well regarded based on the reviews I see on other sites.

    This from Wired:
    But all hope is not lost. One company in particular still carries a torch for the good old days of corrosive compounds, piercing audio tones and home explosions. Thames & Kosmos makes 60 different science kits targeted at kids ages 5 to 12, covering topics like ignition, electricity, biology, physics and, of course, chemistry. The experiments for older kids are so good, I’d even recommend them for adults.
    posted by vapidave at 3:40 PM on September 19, 2014

    I made weird spooky music for HOURS! I don't doubt that.

    But a Bass and some James Brown to thunk along to is the ticket.
    posted by Mr. Yuck at 3:41 PM on September 19, 2014

    Kindle Paperwhite.
    posted by fings at 4:22 PM on September 19, 2014 [1 favorite]

    An experience! My nephew got to go to the Boston Auto Show for his.
    posted by bendy at 4:26 PM on September 19, 2014

    Online or in person language classes in the the language of his choice so he can start reading every book you can think of for people even remotely close to his age in that language.
    posted by ocherdraco at 4:35 PM on September 19, 2014 [1 favorite]

    My kid has a video camera that makes stop action movies. He uses his Lego sets - the camera hooks up to the laptop (though could also hook up to a desktop.) It's pretty fun, actually.

    I don't know the brand off-hand but if you're interested in the details memail me and I'll find out more.
    posted by lyssabee at 4:50 PM on September 19, 2014

    Does he have a drone?
    posted by A Terrible Llama at 5:12 PM on September 19, 2014

    Spotify eh? This is around the time I got into going to weird old record stores and buying used records to play on my crappy record player. Maybe a (not crappy) player and a few out of print records from a local place or the internet? If they have record stores near you, take him in and ask the least pretentious employee which records aren't on Spotify?
    posted by Potomac Avenue at 5:14 PM on September 19, 2014

    Arduino kit!

    A used DSLR camera (mine was $180) to learn photography!

    An aquarium with Glofish genetically modified glowing fish!
    posted by miyabo at 5:23 PM on September 19, 2014

    Its usefulness depends on where you live, but has he got a bicycle? A fairly decent one? Outfitted nicely (rack, lights, lots and lots of reflectors and reflective tape for visibility, and a stylish decoration or two?)

    In many communities 12 years old is a great age to be enjoying some freedom of movement and independence and if you're in a bike-able area the bike will open up opportunities to him, give him an outlet for physical exercise, and possibly relieve you of the need to be constantly chauffeuring.
    posted by Nerd of the North at 5:55 PM on September 19, 2014 [1 favorite]

    Some basic carpentry tools. He's old enough that he could start making real things instead of playing with toys.

    A bicycle. Bicycle = freedom at least until he is 16.

    A film camera and some dark room equipment. Not as cost-effective as a digital camera but fun to play with and arcane enough to appeal to a young boy.

    Could you give him $100 (or some other appropriate amount of money) and just let him and a friend loose downtown?
    posted by any portmanteau in a storm at 5:59 PM on September 19, 2014 [1 favorite]

    If you're playing D&D, does he have minis, dice, and paint to paint the minis with?
    posted by yarntheory at 6:30 PM on September 19, 2014

    Keva blocks.

    They are fantastic. You can build a 10 foot tower withiut much effort, if you've got enough blocks. And you can build ramps, and spirals...
    posted by leahwrenn at 6:36 PM on September 19, 2014

    Here's some stuff I was into when I was 12, with similar interests as your son and before 'screen time' was a phrase:

    -Puzz3d 3-d puzzles, which appear to still be around in limited form.
    -Vehicles. I still have a subscription to Car and Driver magazine that dates from that time. Building model cars and planes-this might not be a thing anymore. I used to go to the library and read Model Railroader and Flying magazine and would have killed for a subscription to either. I was into stock car racing and used to draw tracks and make little stock cars on paper and have races and narratives for a season of racing.
    -Strat-o-matic for sure, but also a simpler baseball dice game that my dad taught me. I liked it because it was easy to play lots of games quickly. I would make up teams of my friends and dinosaurs and real baseball players and historical baseball players. I think I had a team of my teachers. I'd play full seasons, name an all star team, have a World Series, keep extremely detailed records and stats.
    -I guess dioramas and models generally. I liked to watch Bob Ross because he explained how and why he was doing what he was doing, I liked to go to the museums and look at the little scenes, here's a diorama of this biome or whatever.
    -Reading RPG manuals-I was less interested in playing the games, but I wanted to understand the systems. Champions, D&D 2nd edition I liked in particular-I had the Greyhawk boxed set and I loved reading about the city, the lore. Monsters Manual. Alignment in D&D 2nd edition! There was a little narrative about a party that had all the alignments as part of the explanation of what alignment was. A box of weird RPG books from a garage sale would have been heaven. I really liked those technical manuals that came out for Star Trek as well.
    -In general, I had a list of weird books that I would have wanted to buy that I hadn't told anyone about. Gift card to a book store would be ideal for me.
    -Coins. I didn't care about which ones were rare or valuable, but I did like the process of learning about them, how they were made and organized. I had a quarter sleeve where you could store like one quarter from each year back to the 1930s or whatever and I was super into that.
    -Magic the Gathering, but only aspirationally, it was too expensive.

    I guess 'Understanding purposefully created systems, and purposefully creating my own systems' is the overriding theme for this era for me.
    posted by Kwine at 8:18 PM on September 19, 2014

    Do you remember Theo Jansen's giant wind-powered mechanical creatures, Strandbeests? Previously (2002), previously (2004), etc. Well you can buy a Miniature Strandbeest kit which could be interesting for a Lego maniac (though ultimately not as flexible or underfoot as Lego).
    posted by xueexueg at 8:56 PM on September 19, 2014 [2 favorites]

    A telescope?
    posted by litera scripta manet at 8:56 PM on September 19, 2014

    Electric guitar and lessons, drum kit, skateboard, tickets to a water park or theme park, or to watch favourite team play, pogo stick, build your own robot kits.
    posted by Jubey at 11:10 PM on September 19, 2014

    Youth Digital, which I've heard good things about but have no direct experience with, has a class that teaches kids how to make Minecraft mods. It's aimed right at his demographic, and sounds pretty cool. I'm thinking about giving it to my soon-to-be twelve year old for her impending birthday.
    posted by MeghanC at 11:40 PM on September 19, 2014 [1 favorite]

    It's more of a delayed rather than on the day gift but perhaps Loot Crate?

    Oh, and thanks for asking this question - I have a 10 year old with a lot of similar interests, and this thread has me organised for future birthdays :)
    posted by Megami at 12:03 AM on September 20, 2014

    I think you've got a lot of really great ideas here. But, when I was twelve my grandma gave me $100 cash for Christmas, totally out of the blue (we usually got physical presents), and it was amazing. I had never had that kind of money before! I sat on it for a while and then bought some things that I wanted at the toy store (like one of those kits where you can excavate a tiny dinosaur skeleton from a plaster brick, I remember it cost $40), but I made it last for months, I didn't spend it all at once. It was such a great present, though.

    YMMV, completely depending on whether or not your kid is liable to run out and blow $100 on gummies, and also probably how you deal with money in your household.
    posted by lollymccatburglar at 1:16 AM on September 20, 2014

    Have similar situation and am watching this thread.

    Here's the list I have of possibilities:
    - World of Tanks (online game) money - not required but good for adding upgrades, maybe your DS would like this game too based on the other similar interests?
    - pre-order from amazon of the new Riordan book so it arrives the day it comes out 10/7
    - alarm clock
    - Catan add-on: Explorers and Pirates
    - nice headset
    - trip to movies with a few friends followed by pizza and s'mores bar around the campfire
    - extra musical instrument so can keep the other one at school
    - pick your own shoes from Dick's or Dunham's - probably Nike basketball shoes
    posted by RoadScholar at 4:57 AM on September 20, 2014

    To the great ideas already mentioned, I'd add something like RPGMaker. One of my kids just got it and is very excited about it.

    For my oldest's 13th birthday in May, we went in with him on something big he wanted, in this case a Playstation 4. Several months before his birthday, he agreed to save his allowance until his birthday, and we agreed that whatever cash my father sent him would go into the kitty, and then my partner and I would pay the difference. Now my 10 year old wants to do something like that for his next birthday, too.

    I also got the 13yo a few small gifts, like books or something.

    My 13yo and my 10yo are suddenly all about the geeky t-shirts. Dr. Who, Minecraft, Portal, Firefly, other video games they play. My 13yo's friend has a Portal-themed messenger bag. Checking thinkgeek for things like that could be fruitful.
    posted by not that girl at 7:25 AM on September 20, 2014

    I still have a pocket knife I was given around that age.
    posted by Gotanda at 8:04 AM on September 20, 2014 [1 favorite]

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