Family Gifts That Teenagers Don’t (Completely) Hate

The original Beach Hair Don't Care buddies at Sleeping Bear Dunes in 2022!

When the kids were pretty small, I made up this thing where I give everyone a "family gift" on Christmas Eve. It wasn't really a big deal when the kids were little and they already always wanted to do stuff with us, but now?

OMG it's a big deal!

My nearly-all-the-way-grown teenagers are actually still excellent about acting like they want to spend time with their boring parents, but even then there's so much that takes us all away from each other constantly--everyone has jobs, the kids have school and extracurriculars all over the place at all times, then they have more schoolwork to do when they're home, then when they're done with all of that their friends would like to see them sometimes, too! 

So family time is extra precious now, and these family gifts are a sneaky way to legislate it into our busy lives.

Here are some of everyone's favorite family gifts over the years:

books and movies

Up through just a few years ago, we constantly had a family read-aloud going. It was real old-fashioned, and very much a stereotypical homeschool family thing, but we LOVED it. We plowed through a ridiculous amount of Jules Verne that way, and the entirety of The Hobbit and Lord of the Rings trilogy, along with so much more. 

Other good books for reading aloud with families of all ages include the All-of-a-Kind Family series, Anne of Green Gables series, The Chronicles of Narnia, The Dark is Rising series, the Harry Potter series (buy the books used so you don't support Rowling), the Little House series, The Once and Future King, and the Sherlock Holmes novels and stories

The kids, well into their teenaged years, eventually lost interest in being read to, but we all still really like to watch long-winded television and movie series together--one of our goals for Thanksgiving break, actually, was to re-watch the entire Jurassic Park franchise, which we happily did over several nights. And our years-long, at this point, challenge to watch the entirety of Supernatural has no end in sight!

We've got a lot of movies that we like to watch yearly, with the entirety of October being Horror Movie Month and the entirety of December being Christmas Movie Marathon Month. A LONG, long time ago, I made everyone watch White Christmas during this month, not even exactly expecting my young kids to like it, but essentially just because I love musicals and *I* wanted to watch it that year.

Ummmm.... we all LOVED it?!? Mind you, we skip the "minstrel number" because it's gross, but over what must be, at this point, at least a decade of yearly viewing, we've developed a few different headcanons and secret subplots and a billion inside jokes that feed into the rest of the year, not the least of which is this particular number:

I quite like to sing it to the children whenever they're not getting along AT ALL.

Good movies and series to watch with the family include Doctor Who, Harry Potter, the Lord of the Rings movies, the Marvel movies, Psych, Sharknado, Sherlock, and Star Wars

camping and outdoor stuff

I leap upon any chance to get the kids away from their screens. I mean, screens are great, because that's how a lot of kids, mine included, do a lot of their socializing with friends these days, and I wouldn't take away their group chats for the world, but I LOVE it when there's a handy, no-fault excuse to be all, "Dang, no wi-fi or data? Guess we'll just have to talk to each other!" I went cabin camping with my Girl Scout troop last weekend, and it was pretty magical to see all the ways that they related to each other without screens. They played card games, listened to music, made Christmas crafts, cooked, and talked and talked and talked and talked!

Not every outdoor activity has been a hit, but most of us more-or-less enjoy activities like skiing, kayaking and paddleboarding, hiking, snorkeling, and bicycling. All the matching gear for that can get VERY spendy, but most of it you can keep using practically forever. And some stuff, like these hand warmers that I put in everyone's stocking last year, actually aren't too pricey and get tons of use over the winter. I can also still usually bribe teenagers to come outside when there are marshmallows, so fire pits big and small are always fun.

I wouldn't dare try to get away with giving camping stuff as a family gift anymore, but the kids used to like camping pretty well, and receiving gifts like their very own hiking backpacks and backpacking tents was once upon a time very fun! Fortunately, I bought that stuff to last, because even now when I have to make them come with me they can still use it all.

class or adventure

2021 pre-Christmas trip to New York City!

There was exactly one year in which both of my kids enjoyed traveling, and OMG I enjoyed every second of that year. I miss you, 2018! Both before and after, one or the other of my kids have been grumpy travelers, and sometimes I'm lucky enough for both of them to be accompanying me only under duress. 

Disneyland on Thanksgiving Day in that magical year of 2018!

But even when a kid proclaims to be absolutely miserable on the magical adventure that I have thoughtfully planned out for her, they still have a perfectly fine time whenever they forget to gripe about it. The crankiest traveler is also generally amenable to super quick family trips that we take just to do one or two especially cool things. Good family gifts include train or plane tickets, theme park tickets, concert or show tickets, passes to ski resorts or waterparks, and gift cards to trampoline parks, climbing gyms, and arcades. 

Everyone in my family also likes more guided experiences like museum or zoo behind-the-scenes opportunities, classes for skills like glass blowing or baking, and open-ended activities like pottery painting or candymaking. We also don't fight too much when we share subscription boxes, and it's fun to think of more things to add to the experience every month, like a themed movie or restaurant. 

And it's not quite a Christmas gift for us, exactly, but my town has a ton of opportunities to sponsor and shop for a local kid's Christmas wish list, and it is SO FUN! You get to argue as a group over which pair of baby leggings is cuter, and dither over Monster Jam trucks because you can't decide if the shark one or the dinosaur one is more fun, and pick out little stocking stuffers and matching blankies, and then you get all the extra fun of thinking about how much they're going to love their presents, and thinking of them again on Christmas day when you know they're probably opening their gifts, hoping that they're having an absolutely marvelous time. Here's the set of four siblings that my Girl Scout troop is shopping for this year, if your family doesn't have time for a full-on shopping expedition but still want to make some kids' holiday a little more magical.

craft or DIY kits

I love family projects, and I can generally get the teenagers on board, too, if the project isn't too corny. Whether or not a project is too corny depends on the teenager--one of them, for instance, has now declared tie-dye corny, which is ridiculous because tie-dye is AWESOME but whatever. 

Matt is the LEGO parent, and he and the kids happily dive into even the biggest LEGO sets. I'm more the parent who instigates projects that are sneakily educational so I can put them on the kids' transcripts, or the one who buys all the crap to make the latest Tiktok food trend.

Other good family DIY kits include sourdough starters, food crafting kits, cookie decorating sets, ornament making, and kits for making useful family stuff like bird houses or feeders, coasters, and bookends. 

games and puzzles

We don't play as many family games as we did when the kids were younger, although Cards Against Humanity is still a BIG hit with everyone. What we all still really like, though, are giant puzzles that we can work on while listening to our favorite family podcasts--currently, The Black Tapes and The Magnus Archives, because Night Vale is Will's only exception to her otherwise firm rule that she only listens to serial podcasts after they're complete.

There are a few games that I play with the kids without Matt, for some reason. Syd and I are the biggest fans in the world of the Hunt a Killer series; she buys me a new one for every gift-giving occasion, and then we have a whole evening together of listening to music, eating special snacks, and solving a murder. I also have separate Stardew Valley co-ops with each of the kids, and we happily spend time together each week polishing up our farms and working to rebuild the community center. 

Other good games and puzzles to do as a family are Scrabble, Quirkle, this Harry Potter co-op game, Minecraft, Second Chance, Monopoly, and any thrift store puzzle because you never know what you'll actually get!

matching clothing

Okay, not like MATCHING matching, because even I wouldn't go for that. We've never even gone full-on matching Christmas pajamas, which is totally mainstream now. It's more like we all just get the same kind of stuff and it's funny. One year those big fuzzy adult rompers were on trend, so I surprised everybody with their own handpicked fuzzy adult romper on Christmas Eve, and everybody but Syd still wears theirs on odd winter nights, and Syd only doesn't still wear hers because she had another growth spurt after that. Another Christmas Eve I bought everybody fuzzy novelty slippers, which Matt and I still wear but the kids have since decided that they're not "slippers people," whatever that means. And another year I discovered MeUndies and thought it would be hilarious to put literal matching underwear in everyone's stockings. It was, indeed, hilarious! Mostly, though, I just, like, give everybody the same kind of wooly hat, say, so then we're all just wearing wooly hats or whatever.

Other good matching clothing items are jammy pants, novelty socks, Christmas sweaters, sweatshirts (although the kids and I all simultaneously wore our hoodies branded with Will's new college during a summer road trip, and it was AWFUL because everyone literally thought we were on a school field trip, but Will did get us a school discount at the fudge shop so it was worth it), and college or sports merch.

If you've got any other ideas for family gifts that teenagers wouldn't completely hate, I would LOVE to hear them! With Will heading off to college in a minute, I'm really feeling the urge to pack in all the family bonding time I can get, and to plan more family bonding for long-distance and school breaks. 

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