What to Know Before You Buy Gifts for your Teens

I’ll never forget the time that I was having lunch with my new friend, Jane, who was in a quandary about a holiday gift request from her teen daughter. Jane had asked her for a wish list, and what she got back was a “list” with a single item: a phonograph.

If you’re old enough to know what a phonograph is, just reading that word may leave you nostalgic. When I was young, we all had phonographs. It was how we played music – LPs to be precise. Over the years we collected the records of our favorite artists, and we treasured them.

At the time,Urban Outfitters offered a rather cool-looking phonograph.

Jane did NOT want to buy it for her daughter. She was certain it would end up in the closet along with the skateboard and the guitar — two previous gifts that were barely used and then forgotten. Why buy a gift she knew would be a waste?

As she told me all this, I was a bit envious. I imagined my teen daughter asking for a phonograph and instantly thought of how great it would be for both of us:

  • She would be listening to music in a communal way, rather than on her phone.
  • She would experience what I had at her age – placing an LP on a turntable and watching the needle gently touch down into the first grooves of the vinyl as the record spun.
  • I could pull out the albums I had saved from my high school days and we could listen together.
  • She and I could go to record stores together and flip through the albums; I could share my favorites with her.

In our attempt to be good parents, many of us fall into the trap of feeling as though the gifts we give our children need to be useful – or at the very least, utilized! I don’t know about you, but this idea usually leaves me feeling stressed or disappointed, two feelings I try to avoid whenever possible.

The truth is, I might buy my daughter a cool retro phonograph and none of the benefits I imagined may come to pass. And that’s okay. Parenting with love means knowing that a gift is simply a gift – something we give just for the sake of it. It’s a way of letting people we care about know they’re important to us.

My conversation with Jane inspired me to put together my own gift-giving guidelines for parents. When I can follow even most of them, the holidays are more fun and I’m a happier mom.

Updated December  2020

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