Gift ideas for an overworked, overscheduled preteen?
June 6, 2016 3:47 AM   Subscribe

Looking for a gift that could help a young girl deal gracefully with the stress of her teen years.

My cousin's bat mitzvah is coming up. I don't see her very often (max twice a year for major holidays, sometimes even less), but I know enough about her to be concerned. Her mother is kind of a well-meaning Tiger Mom, overstuffing her schedule with all kinds of mandatory extracurricular activities on top of her demanding IB curriculum.

The girl herself seems, based on my minimal contact with her, to be bright, confident, and creative (she loves drawing, for instance). But I'm increasingly worried that as she reaches her teen years she's going to either get more and more stressed out trying to balance everything or rebel against all her mom's demands in dramatic, possibly self-destructive ways.

To be fair, there's no indication yet that she's struggling right now. Again, from my minimal contact with her, she seems to be handling everything very well. My concern comes mainly from her situation. I had way fewer demands on me at her age and handled even those extremely poorly. If I had her mom, I'd have gone completely apeshit.

I can't really be there for her (distance, etc), but if I'm getting her a bat mitzvah present anyway, I want to use that opportunity to give her something that will help her navigate her teen years, carve out some time for herself, and find whatever balance she can. I've been looking at teen self-help books on Amazon, but I'm skeptical of any book written by adults for teens. I remember being turned off, even offended, by most advice books at that age. I don't want to get her something cheesy and condescending that she'll never read, but at the same time I'm not sure I still know how to speak "teen."

I'm intrigued by some of these CBT workbooks I've been seeing, but I don't want to imply that I think she's already struggling with anxiety or perfectionism or anything like that. Also, the last thing she needs is more homework.

If possible, I'd also like to get her something that encourages her creative pursuits, but I'm pretty sure everyone else will be getting her art supplies.

Last requirement: I can't get her anything that would start a family riot. (The angry teen in me wants to get her The Teenage Liberation Handbook. The grown-up in me realizes that's an epically awful idea.)

Can anyone recommend a gift that would fit that bill? It doesn't necessarily have to be a book (or multiple books), that's just all I can think of at the moment.
posted by Anyamatopoeia to Human Relations (20 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
This seems like the perfect occasion for a lovely journal and pen. Maybe with a coupon/gift certificate in the last page that you'll get her another one when she fills this one.
posted by cocoagirl at 3:58 AM on June 6, 2016 [5 favorites]

If she likes art supplies, give her art supplies!

Part of being a teenager is telling your mom to take a hike because you don't want to go to softball and orchestra and French club. This is a natural part of teenaging. While you can be an ear to this cousin, you don't know her mom is stressing her out. You don't know if she is prone to anxiety or thrives on options and things to do. Some people love socializing and doing and going. I'd just give her something fun you think she'll enjoy.
posted by Kalmya at 4:42 AM on June 6, 2016 [3 favorites]

She sounds like me at that age.

Things I really liked getting:
-supplies for the art thing I liked best
-computer games that would let me veg out and turn my brain off
-brightly colored school supplies so the thing I spent the most time doing was a little more fun (pretty gel pens for taking notes, glittery folders, cool pencil case, etc)

I was way too responsible at that age for money to be a fun gift, since I felt guilty about spending and just threw everything into my savings account. But a few years later when I was 16 and bought my own car, that worked out.

What would have been really valuable to me at that age would have been another adult taking me out for the day to do things I never felt comfortable asking my parents if I could do, like buying some non-serious piece of clothing or getting a pedicure or whatever.

I also really, really wanted to dye my hair a bright color at that age, but there's no way that would have ever flown. Is hair chalk still a thing the kids are into? That's nice and temporary.
posted by phunniemee at 4:45 AM on June 6, 2016 [5 favorites]

Get her something fun she can do with her friends. Movie tickets, theme park vouchers, iTunes... and a long letter about you at that age. Don't talk about your concerns or her situation; just tell her what it was like to be 13 for you. Be as personal as possible. She will be getting lots of gifts (including pens and journals and cash, surely) but it is a real treasure to have an opportunity to show someone she is not alone.... And that if she does start to struggle, she can come to you.
posted by nkknkk at 5:01 AM on June 6, 2016 [6 favorites]

Cash/gift certificates buy a certain measure of independence as a teen - it's unimaginative but helpful.
posted by R a c h e l at 5:27 AM on June 6, 2016

You want to be careful about cash -- in a not insignificant number of families, all cash is earmarked for a college fund of some sort. A Visa or Amazon gift card would avoid that.
posted by jeather at 5:48 AM on June 6, 2016 [3 favorites]

What about a fancy planner and the artsy supplies that go with it, or a gift card for same. Check out Erin condren or plum planner. Watch a couple YouTube videos to see how creative people can get.
posted by dpx.mfx at 6:22 AM on June 6, 2016 [1 favorite]

I don't mean to be harsh, but a self-help book or a workbook is not a fun present for anyone to receive and is likely to cause some family drama. Many, probably most, American kids are over-scheduled today. I do understand your concerns, but I am also picking up heavy judgement toward the mother (is the father involved? Why is he not equally responsible for this harm you imagine?) You're also projecting your experience and feelings onto her. Maybe the parents know that keeping this kid busy is the best way to manage her personality, maybe they feel it's best for her academic goals, maybe she wants to pursue these activities and they are following her wishes. We really don't know the situation and I doubt you do based on bi-annual chats with her. And I do empathasize that you want to connect with her, but again, any kind of "self help" gift is likely to be taken as the criticism it is. If you find a resource you really think could benefit her, maaaybe you could send it at a different time, but don't make it a bat mitzvah gift.
Cash or gift cards to a favorite store is a generous, safe gift for kids when you don't know what to buy them. Other ideas: If you have a hobby or craft skill you think she might enjoy, you could buy her some supplies and offer to teach her via FaceTime or during a visit. Or you could give her a copy of a book you liked when you were her age, with a note about what you liked about it and encouragement to email/text you to tell you what she thinks of it. And I don't know if she likes comics already, but if not you could buy her a subscription to a series or two. I think the Lumber Jane or Squirrel Girl series would be a good bet, but other posters may have better comic suggestions.
posted by areaperson at 7:21 AM on June 6, 2016 [4 favorites]

Her parents are divorced and her father lives overseas. They Skype frequently, and she flies out to visit that side of the family at least once a year, but her mom is unquestionably the primary guardian.

And I know she's not into it partly because of what her mom has said, partly because of how the daughter acts.

Three representative anecdotes:
About a year ago, her mom excitedly told everyone about the school's Saturday School program where kids are taken out to museums. She said herself that her daughter never wants to go but that she makes her because it's good for her. On the same day, she expressed concern about how much homework the school was making kids do, but also wholeheartedly supported mandatory band or orchestra. She didn't seem to understand why it would be a problem that between Saturday School and religious education on Sundays, during the school year her daughter does not have a single day where she's not at some kind of school.

On Passover, she told us how the school requires either band/orchestra participation or art classes. You can also do both. Her daughter, she quickly added, does both. Completely unbidden, her daughter said, "I LOVE ART!" and proudly showed off a couple of drawings she did. She said nothing about orchestra. Her mom cajoled her for about five minutes to play the violin in front of everyone, which she eventually, grudgingly, did.

More recently, just a few days ago, the mom shared a list of "school holiday rules" on Facebook delineating all the tasks a child must have done before watching TV or using a computer. These include making your bed, cleaning one room, 20 minutes of reading, 20 minutes of writing or coloring, playing outside for 30 minutes, building or making something creative, and helping a family member with a task. She shared this list with the comment that she wanted to try this with her kid.

Like... I understand she's trying to expose her daughter to as many opportunities as she can and instill good habits and whatnot, but I feel like she goes way too far. And her daughter makes her displeasure known.
posted by Anyamatopoeia at 8:04 AM on June 6, 2016

Her daughter is comfortable expressing dislike to her mom, and her mom has some routine chores to do before spending the day watching tv or playing games? Totally within normal range for a lot of families and not tiger mom. Tiger mom is tying your love and child's worth to their grades, and denying them anything but school. This is a regular somewhat strict mom, and her daughter may need that structure for her own personality. Unless she's showing actual signs of distress, you're projecting how you would feel in this girl's life which isn't actually helpful to her.
posted by dorothyisunderwood at 8:39 AM on June 6, 2016

After seeing your second, poor kid. Mandatory band was one of the biggest wastes in my youth, years later and I can't play much any more, and my time would have been spent better in literally any other activity that I enjoyed. That coupled with the "prodigy" approach to parenting makes me sad(and no,an entire day of chores before she can enjoy herself is NOT normal) .

For gifts, I'm gonna second the idea of fun things that she can use to have some freedom. Gift cards, movie or event tickets, art supplies. For someone her age who loves art, perhaps a nice watercolour set? Or one of those lovely nature colouring books?
posted by InkDrinker at 11:47 AM on June 6, 2016 [1 favorite]

Agree with art supplies, but I'd go with a gift card to a nice art supply store. The fun of indulging in nice art supplies is the joy of perusing hundreds of paintbrushes or shades of paint or textures of paper yourself and picking the exact one you want. I'd have loved this at her age.
posted by GastrocNemesis at 12:11 PM on June 6, 2016 [4 favorites]

I agree with the art supply thing to the extent that it's an example of giving her something that reinforces her own choices and preferences. The bat mitzvah is all about growing up and being taken seriously as a non-child. Another approach is to give her something that, in general, an adult would have but a child wouldn't.
posted by SemiSalt at 12:18 PM on June 6, 2016 [1 favorite]

I would get her the copies of Rookie Yearbook that have been released so far (I think there are 4 now?). It's fun, smart writing and art for teenaged girls. And, coupled with that, a gift certificate to an art supply store like Blick. These gifts will infuse her life with some fun and inspiration to continue on her own creative journey.
posted by quince at 12:39 PM on June 6, 2016 [2 favorites]

My kids have shelves upon shelves of thoughtful journals, art supplies, various activity kits, and stuff related to their hobbies - too much. Can you ask her what she wants instead of assuming what is good for her like you describe her mom doing? We just picked out a much-wanted gift for a graduating nephew after a brief consult with him.
posted by RoadScholar at 12:53 PM on June 6, 2016

I would think a nice Moleskine art notebook might be a gift she'd treasure.
posted by WCityMike at 1:18 PM on June 6, 2016

What's your price point? If she flies overseas regularly to see her father, travel related gifts could be good. And depending on price point this could range from a fancy eye mask, a fancy travel-sized toiletry kit, or on the high end, noise cancelling headphones. Bose is the gold standard here. I mention those specifically because not only do they cancel out airplane noise astonishingly well, but also when I was that age the whole block-out-the-world aspect of them would have been very appealing.
posted by BusyBusyBusy at 1:49 PM on June 6, 2016

HOBBY LOBBY GIFT CARD. I was also a pushed all around over achiever and was never pushed to do well in the arts. I excelled anyway and if someone gave me a $50-100 gift card to Hobby Lobby (it's better than Micheal's and you can get way more variety of supplies for less money than the more expensive serious art supply companies) I would have been in heaven! And there would be nothing my parents could do about it, hah!
posted by stilldreams at 2:07 PM on June 6, 2016 [1 favorite]

Thanks, everyone! I didn't know exactly what kind of gift to give for a bat mitzvah. I was thinking along the lines of a birthday/Christmas present. But having looked into it more, I read that apparently it's very common, even expected, to give money or gift cards, especially in multiples of 18. So I was worried that money or a gift card to an art supply store would be too impersonal, but it looks like it would actually be perfect!

Now I just have to figure out how much to put on the card, and whether to get one for Blick, Michael's, or Hobby Lobby. (Not so sure about the last one, for political reasons...)
posted by Anyamatopoeia at 12:41 PM on June 7, 2016

Blick. Definitely Blick.
posted by phunniemee at 12:50 PM on June 7, 2016

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