Birthday present for tween girl who has everything?
September 26, 2007 12:35 PM   Subscribe

Stumped for birthday present filter: Ideas for a 12-year-old girl who has everything?

Help with a present for a niece, please? She's going to be 12 but seems younger than that--definitely more "12 going on 10" than "12 going on 29." She has just about everything you can think of (iPod, Harry Potter set, projection tv, digital camera, cats, dogs, iPhone, clothes, tennis lessons, seen cirque du soleil several times) and things I wouldn't have thought of (designed a dress which was then hand sewn by someone). We gave her an electric guitar one year.

Her dad's an early adopter gadget-wise, so she has lots of gear. She travels extensively with her parents--both long international trips and short domestic jaunts--so even a present of a trip somewhere doesn't have the sheen it might for someone else. For other kids her age I've given bunches of movie vouchers so they can go to the movies with a group of friends. From what I can tell over the last few years, she doesn't really have a clique and is a bit introverted. She lives quite rurally, which might have something to do with it. I don't think boys are on the radar screen, at least explicitly. My only idea so far is an evening at the theater with us and dinner beforehand. But in our families, scheduling an event like this tends to drag on and then no longer feels like a birthday present when it actually arrives months later. I've read all the posts with the tag 'birthday' with no real leads.

Any ideas?
posted by cocoagirl to Shopping (43 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
Is she a reader? Our fallback in situations like this is nearly always a book. For an older child, we might choose a particularly nice hardcover/slipcover edition. It seems to be more gifty that way.
posted by jquinby at 12:43 PM on September 26, 2007

is she into video games? does she have a DS or PSP?
posted by tylerfulltilt at 12:50 PM on September 26, 2007

Have you considered asking her to pick a charity / non-profit organization, and making a donation in her name? It might be more engaging for her than "stuff". It sounds like she really doesn't need more stuff.
posted by amtho at 12:51 PM on September 26, 2007 [1 favorite]

I doubt you'll be able to get her any "thing" that will wow her--she's got all the newest gadgets and toys. An experience might do the trick but it sounds like you're worried even that wouldn't be enough. Could you take her out one-on-one, treating her like a real adult? Or perhaps climbing or hiking? Spend some time with her to be the cool aunt/uncle?

Otherwise, I suggest a book. Does she have the "His Dark Materials" trilogy by Phillip Pullman? It is an excellent, intelligent fantasy series that I recommend to Harry Potter fans.
posted by Anonymous at 12:54 PM on September 26, 2007

This really sounds like a person that needs some kind of gift to highlight the importance of things besides material goods.

I don't know what you could give to accomplish that goal, or even if it's something you would want to do, but that's kind of what I get from reading your question (and it does sound like you agree she probably has "too many" things and isn't mature enough for all of it).

Donating to a charity in her name is the only thing I can think of, off-hand. If I come up with anything else, I'll post back.
posted by DMan at 12:54 PM on September 26, 2007 [1 favorite]

Yes, she sounds like she has everything (not even some 29 year olds have)!

How about a day with you at a museum of her choice? There's nothing like spending a little quality time with a 12 year old.
posted by Taken Outtacontext at 12:55 PM on September 26, 2007

Get her a hand crafted, engraved, artistic shot gun. I doubt anyone in her social circle would have one and considering she has every other material good in the world, it would be different.

And if her parents object, just promise not to give her ammunition. You might want to clear this gift idea with her parents first though.
posted by Stynxno at 1:03 PM on September 26, 2007

Art supplies and a book on drawing or cartooning.
posted by sageleaf at 1:04 PM on September 26, 2007

The gift of giving may be ideal for this girl. Even if she is slightly less mature than her age, I've read about Jr. High School girls who are raising thousands of dollars to help repair fistulas for women abroad, as an example.

Maybe you can spend some time talking about things that interest/concern her in the world and see if there is something that sparks her interest.

If that doesn't feel appropriate I think something cultural is the way to go - an experience versus a gift. Day at the museum, a play, a butterfly exhibit.
posted by prettymightyflighty at 1:05 PM on September 26, 2007

Build/make/create something with her.
posted by probablysteve at 1:11 PM on September 26, 2007

Along the lines of the charity idea suggested by a bunch of folks, how about a Heifer Project donation ( You essentially give a needy family somewhere in the world a cow or a goat or some sheep that they can use for agricultural purposes. I remember getting a couple of these around that age and it was always a pretty neat gift. I'd go with a Heifer Project donation in her name along with some sort of fun activity together (hiking, museum, whatever).
posted by zachlipton at 1:13 PM on September 26, 2007

Best answer: I don't agree that donating to a charity in somebody's name is a valid "present" for anyone. If you want to donate to a charity, do it yourself. If the child wants to donate to a charity, it seems better to give her the money and let her choose how she wants to donate it. Supporting a charity is a very personal choice, and it's best if the person "donating" understands and supports the goals of that charity.

I think having some sort of price range might be useful here. I think books are excellent gifts, but if that is too cheap it isn't very useful to recommend them.

What about artwork? Sure it isn't as entertaining as some other options, but helping someone start an art collection could be good for that person who has everything. There's always new art out there. Signed prints are affordable and neat.
posted by that girl at 1:14 PM on September 26, 2007 [2 favorites]

For an older child, we might choose a particularly nice hardcover/slipcover edition.

Personally, I hate hardcover fiction. As a kid I found slipcovers particularly irritating. That said, books are great presents.
posted by grouse at 1:15 PM on September 26, 2007 [1 favorite]

Best answer: I'd say go against the "12 going on 10" grain. As a father of two teenage girls I can tell you what you want to give her is bragging rights when she gets to school on Monday.

Grab the concert listings and look for a pop concert that's not too over the top ... smaller venues work best. Then you take her and a friend, or just you two. Worked great with a 13 year-old and Regina Spektor.

For extra credit, burn her a CD witht the artist's music on it and make a label that it's from you to her.
posted by lpsguy at 1:15 PM on September 26, 2007 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Instead of a single item, you could try to come up with a package of some kind. I usually fall back to safeleaf's suggestion when it comes to kids, but maybe hike it up a notch by adding things like Understanding Comics and ticket to a local Comics Fest. Or try the anti-gadget path and buy her an orchid, along with care books, and pay her membership fee to get into a local orchid growing club. Or try it with bonsai. Or cooking (books, classes, etc).
posted by eralclare at 1:20 PM on September 26, 2007 [1 favorite]

dude. she has more "stuff" than i do.

that said, when i was 12 i had tons of books and lots of stuffed animals and barbies and stuff and we bicycled all over the us. not as much "stuff" as your niece, but i wasn't wanting for anything (though if it were today, I would be begging for an ipod and a wii and my parents definitely would not have gotten me that!).

i was also an introvert with not many friends.

is she "girly"? are you? if so, i think (and i would have at 12 too) it would be cool to go to a day spa together. get the manis/pedis, the mud bath, the sauna, etc. it will give you a chance to bond and it will be something (hopefully) outside of her day-to-day life.
posted by misanthropicsarah at 1:26 PM on September 26, 2007 [1 favorite]

I love a themed gift basket. It's so fun to get more than one item, and they usually convey that some amount of thought was involved.

You could choose anything for the theme. It could be tennis, music, a certain country, her favorite book, etc.

A favorite movie: The DVD, the soundtrack, the book it was adapted from, a pair of glamorous sunglasses, a Hollywood picture frame with her picture placed in it, a bag of popcorn, a box of candy, a gift certificate to Blockbuster, etc.

Or, it could be a color: Pink pajamas, pink shower gel, pink shirt, pink young adult fiction, pink movie, pink stationery, pink music, pink lipgloss, etc., all wrapped up in a basket with pink tissue and a pink bow.
posted by LoriFLA at 1:31 PM on September 26, 2007

I have become a huge fan of gifting people with experiences, rather than material objects. Tickets to a concert, theater, cirque du soleil, sporting event, sky diving, caving, horseback riding, boat ride, train ride, amusement park, laser light show at a planetarium.

Give them some memories and some exposure to new experiences, rather than more toys or gadgets to clutter their life.
posted by browse at 1:32 PM on September 26, 2007

seconding a concert
posted by craven_morhead at 1:36 PM on September 26, 2007

Anything but STUFF. Encouraging materialism in a 12 year old isn't something that will make you auntie or uncle of the year. Concert, museum, hiking trip!, some time in the woods, or some time volunteering or doing something for someone other than herself. If she's 12 going on 10, do something that will help her understand that the world exists outside of her sphere of influence.
posted by TomMelee at 1:38 PM on September 26, 2007

How about treating her and a couple of friends to a lesson at a cookery school? Maybe something fun like cupcakes or pizza, where they can throw the dough around.
posted by essexjan at 1:42 PM on September 26, 2007

Agree with doing something. If she's not into girly stuff, could you take some kind of class together? My aunt and I are both very crafty, and for my birthday one year she gave me a catalog from a place that does all sorts of sewing/craft workshops and said "pick one, we'll do it together." I picked a furniture painting class and I still have the stool.
posted by radioamy at 1:44 PM on September 26, 2007

A subscription to a teen magazine maybe, or else a magazine about something she likes (Equus if she likes horses, etc.)
posted by np312 at 2:06 PM on September 26, 2007

posted by La Cieca at 2:13 PM on September 26, 2007

Response by poster: Wow, so many responses! Thanks! So far...

jquinby, schroedinger - yes, she's a reader, and I may go this route.

amtho, Dman, prettymightyflighty, zachlipton, et. al. - I considered the charity option but I think it might come of as judgmental. Given her situation, I think she already gets a lot of messages about charity. I think it also may be more helpful to let her figure out for herself if she wants to do anything like that and lead by example where possible.

Stynxno - Weird, but I happen to know that a few in her social circle (girls, her age) do indeed have their own guns. Given their rural location and livelihood, I bet there are guns around at her place, too. In any case, she's a bit squeamish. But kudos on the range of your thinking :-)

lpsguy - Thanks for that heads-up. Relating to her as a bit older may be exactly what she's craving.

Art supplies would be a good idea except that one of her parents is an artist and so there's already a lot of that around.

To everyone else who suggested themed gifts or experiences, I think those make the most sense. Skewing hipper (concert or contemporary art rather than theater) may go a long way to making it fun and something to connect over, not just eh special.
posted by cocoagirl at 2:22 PM on September 26, 2007

Write her a good, long letter.
posted by chinston at 2:26 PM on September 26, 2007

Presents that have gone over well with my pre-teen neices:

Go to an art museum together and spend time looking at and talking about art. I was surprised how much my 12 year old niece seemed to "get" Rothko. Then take her to a good art supply store and let her pick out some good art supplies.

Take her to a book store and let her pick out some books. This is good, because it's hard to tell what books kids already have.

Of course, you have to be in the same town as the kid, for the above suggestions to work. Some ideas if you need a mailable gift:

Burts Bees products. They are girly without being trampy. My nieces like the fruity lip balms.

Gift cards to places like Target and Barnes & Noble are always popular.
posted by pluckysparrow at 2:32 PM on September 26, 2007

Well, I have a twelve year old girl. She's not as awash in stuff, but these are the things that she and her friends are into at the moment:


iPod cases with lots of rhinestones on them

iPod gift cards

anything from Claires (earrings esp.)

Nancy Drew mystery games

High School Musical merchandise

iHome for their iPods
posted by Flakypastry at 2:35 PM on September 26, 2007

Has she ever been on a hot-air balloon ride? I scored major points once, giving two tickets (scheduleable whenever) to someone as a gift. It's fun and probably not going to get you hate-mail from the parents like skydiving would.

Years later they're still talking about it. YMMV, but you might want to see what's available in your area.
posted by Kadin2048 at 2:48 PM on September 26, 2007

Offer to make a donation in her name to a worthy cause. Something that she would care about, turn her onto social activism.
posted by sgobbare at 2:50 PM on September 26, 2007

Here is an idea that we used for my cousins wedding gift. She has many things and we were not sure what to get her for her wedding. We stumbled upon a poem that my grandmother wrote about my cousin as a baby. We copied it onto pink paper and made an album including pics of grandmother and cousin. It also included baby pictures. You could do something similar with family pictures you think she might like. Another idea is take a picture album and fill it with printed poems that are special to your family. You could find some online if nothing rings a bell. Even if its not something she treasures now she might in her later years. And if it comes down to it, give her a very special card instead of a gift. Part of growing up is getting cards instead of gifts.
posted by Snoogylips at 3:00 PM on September 26, 2007

I have an 11 year old daughter. My suggestion is crafts.

Aqua Dots are hot, so are Clikits.

Something crafty but not techy is good for girls that are a bit solitary.
posted by Argyle at 3:05 PM on September 26, 2007

Spacecamp! That's what I wanted at that age, anyway.
posted by you're a kitty! at 3:05 PM on September 26, 2007

Best answer: A beautiful bouquet of flowers. Seriously, it can make a young girl feel very special and mature. (At least as long as she doesn't normally receive them.) And as a plus, it's something tangible, yet not materialistic, to give on the actual birthday besides the promise of e.g. a concert.
posted by lioness at 3:20 PM on September 26, 2007

A great looking set of books.

Cute, inexpensive, handmade bookmarks.

She can make stuff to print (gift wrap, cards) on her computer with these Japanese pattern books.

Pretty embroidery books and a kit.
posted by birdie birdington at 3:25 PM on September 26, 2007

um, i have the same problem with step-daughter.

you know what 12 year old girls really really really like? weird earrings. that's right, it's very simple. go to and put in a search for "polymer clay earrings". you will find a ton of (kawaii!!!) super cute, super affordable earrings of things like hand made donuts, ice cream cones, and you can find them in the $4-$10 range so you can buy a nice assortment and wrap them pretty in those little jewerly boxes they come with.

this is totally my plan for christmas shopping for the girl, and having been a 12 year old girl myself, i know this is going to work. of course she's getting other things, but trust me, this is going to be a huge hit... er, unless her ears aren't pierced. Then you can just go with cute little accessories like cell phone charms, etc.

and best of all, with, you're supporting home-grown crafters and she'll be 100% sure of getting original, one of a kind stuff.

check out these sellers:
posted by eatdonuts at 3:52 PM on September 26, 2007

Best answer: I vote for model rockets. Or a trebuchet kit. Especially if she lives somewhere rural, where she's not likely to break neighbors' windows.

I would have loved such a present at age 12. Then again, I guess I wasn't your average tween girl.
posted by beandip at 4:07 PM on September 26, 2007

International Star Registry an a telescope

knitting needles, lessons, and luscious yarn

posted by peace_love_hope at 4:25 PM on September 26, 2007

What about making her a really neat slide show that includes pictures of your neice, family and her friends. Set the slide show to a song she likes. you can make them on powerpoint or use a professional.
posted by Snoogylips at 5:00 PM on September 26, 2007

Go with her to one of those places where you paint some kind of nice ceramic whatever. You could make one for her and she could make one for you. Gives you time together to talk. Also, there are beading classes which are lots of fun, easy, and you walk out with a bracelet or earrings that you've created.
posted by la petite marie at 5:12 PM on September 26, 2007

eatdonuts' suggestion reminded me of this great crafty jewelmaker. Her tiny baked goods are incredibly lifelike and they smell like the real thing. A lot of the charms are out of stock, but you can place an order and Leslie will make some up. The lemon meringue pie is especially uncanny. I think any kid would be charmed to get one or more of these.
posted by Scram at 9:50 PM on September 26, 2007

I thought of etsy as well. I got bath products from this seller for my mother and sister last year, and they were very highly praised. Very good quality and delicious to use. (I'd try them myself, but don't live in the US, so shipping would be prohibitive) Nothing like feeling pretty for a pre-teen girl.
posted by happyturtle at 11:40 PM on September 26, 2007

A Tree Grows in Brooklyn was my absolute favorite book when I was twelve--I gave my sororal twin cousins each their own copy when they hit that age (subscriptions to Ms. and Bitch didn't go over quite as well three years later).
posted by brujita at 10:46 PM on September 28, 2007

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