But many teens also feel the weight of the world on their shoulders. According to a 2019 survey by the Pew Research Center, 70% of teens consider anxiety and depression to be a significant problem among their peers. “We can find ways to help manage that at home,” says Catherine Pearlman, an assistant professor in the social work program at Brandman University, a parenting adviser, and the mother of two teens. Comforting and relaxing gifts like a weighted blanket or a subscription to a mindfulness app may help.
We relied on Pearlman, Mayer, and other toy and child-development experts—as well as on the collective experience of parents and other caregivers on our staff—for gift ideas that will help teenagers relax, laugh, and grow. And if your teen has a specific focus, some of our other guides may help you locate an ideal gift. For gaming enthusiasts, check out our gaming guides for the best Nintendo Switch and Switch Lite accessories and the best gaming headsets. Athletes may appreciate something from our health and fitness guides, including yoga mats and fitness trackers.
For more gift suggestions, we also have guides to the best gifts for 9-year-olds, 10-year-olds, and tweens. If you’re looking for ideas for younger kids, check out our guides to the best gifts for 1-year-olds, 2-year-olds, 3-year-olds, 4-year-olds, 5-year-olds, 6-year-olds, 7-year-olds, and 8-year-olds, as well as wonderful stocking stuffers for kids. And please share your own best ideas in the comments below.
Put your BFF to the test
The Best Friend Game ($20 at the time of publication)
Think of The Best Friend Game as a play on the Newlywed Game (video)—with friends (instead of couples) pairing up and competing to see how well they know one another. The game comes with six dry-erase boards and markers. And it has a stack of cards with 250 questions, ranging from probing ones (“Who’s my celebrity crush?”; “What’s my least favorite place I’ve ever traveled to?”) to hypothetical questions (“What’s the first thing I would buy if I won the lottery?”; “Who would I call if I had to get rid of a dead body?”). Meant for players who are 14 and older, the game doles out some queries that may not apply to young teens (“How many speeding tickets have I received?” Me: “The answer better be none!”), but the rest should spark some good-natured fun.
A sharp-looking water bottle
A reusable water bottle is a must for teens on the go. Sleek and tapered, the Simple Modern Wave not only looks stylish but also keeps drinks hot or cool for hours. One of our eight favorite water bottles, it comes in dozens of eye-catching colors and patterns, such as ombre (shown) and multicolor swirls. For teens who want a bottle with a more-rugged look, the 22-ounce Takeya Actives has a wide mouth that makes adding ice easy. And this model comes in more than two dozen bright colors. The Takeya bottle keeps drinks cold for long stretches, and it has a spout lid that’s simple to drink from (it can be swapped out for a straw lid, if you prefer).
As many people continue to work from home, adults have caught on to what teenagers have always known: Wearing sweatpants is the best. For relaxing times—or all the time—Uniqlo’s sweatpants (men or women) are likely to become a favorite item in your teen’s wardrobe rotation. Included in the guide to our favorite pajamas, these inexpensive sweats are unfailingly comfortable and cozy, with a flattering fit and sturdy construction. They also come in a wider range of sizes than most brands. After a year of wear, they still look new and seem built to last. A final plus? Pockets.
A quirky carry-all
The Standard Baggu is one of our favorite reusable shopping bags—it’s convenient (folds into a 5-by-5-inch pouch), durable, and practical. Though it comes in nearly 40 colors and prints, we think teens will be especially drawn to two: the lime green Doggu and the newly reissued black-and-white Zoo (pictured here), both by the late New York City–based artist Jason Polan. Polan, who died in early 2020 at the age of 37, was known as a prolific, quirky artist who once set out to sketch everyone in New York City. Both bags reflect his distinctive, lively style.
A criminally good game night
Lucky Duck Games Chronicles of Crime ($30 at the time of publication)
Incorporating a smartphone app, QR codes, and virtual reality, the board game Chronicles of Crime feels like a modern update to Clue for the tech-savvy teen. Players are presented with an unsolved murder or heist, and they work with their friends (or solo) to determine who committed the crime, which weapons were used, and why. Each scenario is a story, with a full cast of characters and motives, and navigating one of them is much like traversing a choose-your-own-adventure book. Because of this game’s dark nature—there are occasional references to drugs, murder, and sex—it is recommended for teens and not younger kids, says Brian Mayer, a library technology and gaming specialist in New York City. Note that part of the experience involves stepping into a 3D crime scene using virtual reality. If you don’t own a mobile VR headset (we like the Merge VR Headset), it helps to have a pair of Chronicles of Crime glasses. (I happened to own a Google Cardboard VR Kit, which also worked.) Like an escape room, it’s pretty much a one-off thing once you figure out the mystery. But the game comes with several crimes to solve, and you can purchase additional stories in the smartphone app or pick up an expansion pack (with new characters, locations, and crimes), such as Chronicles of Crime Noir and Welcome to Redview.
Cameo personalized message (prices vary)
Teens might be cool customers, but they can still become starstruck. Cameo is a digital service that connects mere mortals to celebrities, from actors and athletes to artists and social media influencers. The celebrity of your choice will record a short, personalized video addressing your teen, or they’ll even hop on a one-on-one video call. Thousands of celebs are on the service, including Disney star Milo Manheim, singer Mya, and the Cincinnati Zoo’s Fiona the Hippo. Ranging from about $10 to multiple hundreds (and beyond), the video can be as silly or serious as you want it to be. Actor and comedian Marlon Wayans, for instance, sent a fan a goofy birthday wish, and soccer star Mia Hamm offered encouragement to a student who was heading off to college. Delivered within seven days (you’re not charged if it falls through), the message can be viewed on the Cameo app or downloaded to save forever—or until their next celebrity crush comes along.
Urpower 300ml Aroma Essential Oil Diffuser ($25 at the time of publication)
An essential oil diffuser can help transform a teen’s bedroom into a relaxing retreat, creating a calm, soothing ambiance with a scented mist. Though the health benefits of essential oils are inconclusive, the Urpower 300ml Aroma Essential Oil Diffuser, our pick for the best essential oil diffuser, dispenses a comforting scent (based on the chosen oil) for up to seven hours—longer than most of the diffusers we tested. The Urpower has a simple, compact design, and it can be programmed to shut off after one, two, or three hours. Plus, it lights up in seven pretty colors.
A warm hug (of sorts)
Baloo Weighted Blanket ($150 for a 12-pound throw at the time of publication)
Luna Weighted Blanket ($50 for a 10-pound twin at the time of publication)
Headspace ($70 for an annual subscription at the time of publication)
Snuggling under a weighted blanket can feel like a comforting hug—and sometimes that’s exactly what a teen needs. The 12-pound, roughly twin-size Baloo Weighted Blanket (one of our top picks for the best weighted blanket) is soft and sturdy, and it feels like a combination of a quilt and a comforter. It’s machine-washable and comes with a lifetime guarantee on materials and workmanship. (You can also choose to cover it with its washable duvet cover, sold separately.) Our favorite budget-priced weighted blanket, the Luna, also feels smooth and of high quality, despite costing much less than other weighted blankets we tested. Pair it with a subscription to Headspace (our pick for the best meditation app), which includes guided meditations to help with sleep, anxiety, and stress.
Good morning, sunshine
Philips Wake-Up Light HF3520 ($120 at the time of publication)
If your teen struggles to get out of bed each morning, a sunrise alarm clock, which encourages waking up with the light, might help combat inevitable grogginess. The Philips Wake-Up Light HF3520, our pick for the best sunrise alarm clock, produces a soothing simulated sunrise with a red-tinted glow that gradually grows into a bright white light. It also has the potential to elicit more sleep—which is helpful since most teens aren’t getting the recommended eight to 10 hours of shut-eye they need a night. The Wake-Up Light can be programmed to simulate a sunset, which, in our testing, nudged us to shut down our devices (what teen couldn’t use that?). And it may even kickstart a better sleep cycle.
A digital art supply
An iPad stylus can be a surprising gift for a young artist who’s ready to experiment with a digital canvas. Depending on the iPad model you own, the 1st- or 2nd-generation Apple Pencil is our favorite. It has phenomenal pressure sensitivity and minimal lag (essential for artists). Thanks to Apple’s proprietary system-wide integration, it also has special features like side-touch shading, which other styluses don’t. Admittedly, the Apple Pencil is a splurge. If you’d rather test the waters with a less-expensive option, our budget pick, the durable Adonit Mark Stylus, is a safe bet. Pair your choice with an app like Procreate, a favorite among professional illustrators (there are plenty of YouTube tutorials and classes on Outschool).
Put a record on
U-Turn Orbit Basic Turntable ($179 at the time of publication)
Listening to Spotify is easy. Listening to a record, however, is a tangible experience that teens can turn into a lifelong hobby. Perfect for a beginner, the U-Turn Orbit Basic Turntable produces excellent sound and can introduce a young music lover to the joys of vinyl. Our budget pick for the best turntable, the Orbit Basic has personal flair (the plinth comes in six different colors) and is easy to set up. (We offer suggestions for additional components to maximize your listening experience here.) Plus, once your teen has a turntable, choosing future gifts will be even simpler—just add a record to their collection.
AncestryDNA ($99 at the time of publication)
A DNA test can give a curious teen the opportunity to learn more about their genetic background and identity. AncestryDNA, our top pick, stands out with its clearly presented results and useful historical context (our guide to the best DNA testing kit provides perspective on ethical and privacy issues related to DNA testing). With AncestryDNA’s more than 18 million customers—the largest of the DNA databases—there’s a chance to discover distant relatives. The process is fairly straightforward. Simply mail in a saliva sample, and within a few weeks, results are delivered online, including ethnicity estimates and potential relatives. From there, it’s up to an intrepid teen to track down more clues.