Finding gifts for tween and teen boys that don't contribute to more time in front of screens can be a challenge. But there are some cool things out there. I looked back at gifts my sons received over the last couple of years that were slam dunks, and threw in some of their current wish-list items.
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1. LEGO Architecture
LEGO may be a staple for younger boys, but the LEGO Architecture series is part toy and part amazing display item - aka perfect for tweens. We have three sets that all cost less than $50: San Francisco, Las Vegas and New York City. (They also have reasonably-priced Shanghai, Chicago, Berlin, Great Wall of China, Paris, London, Sydney.) If you're willing to pay more, they have some impressive larger sets like the Capitol Building, Empire State Building, Statue of Liberty - see the full list)
2. Camping Hammock with Tree Straps
My son got this hammock for his birthday and it immediately went up between two trees in our backyard. It's so easy to put up and take down with the tree straps, and you can honestly enclose yourself and take a nap. Our neighbor's son rigged his up on his back deck, where it stayed for most of the summer. It packs up small, so I know my son has his eye on actually using it to camp next summer. And you can't beat the price at around $30.
3. Weighted Blanket
My son tried one of these at a friend's house and immediately put it on his wish-list. Different sources on the weighted blankets say they can be good for restless leg syndrome, restless sleepers in general, ADHD and even anxiety.
There are a bunch of reviews online if you want a blanket that's better for a specific purpose (hypoallergenic or good for kids). I want one that has a plush cover that is removable for washing, and this particular blanket got rave reviews with those features. You can also select different weight and size options. It's on the pricey side at $85, but it's a full-sized blanket kids can take off to college with them someday.
4. Ozark Water Bottle
The Hydroflask and Yeti get lots of attention, but the college students I teach gave me an insider tip: the Ozark water bottles at WalMart are made with almost identical technology for a fraction of the price. You can find them in the camping section of WalMart or online for $8. Then order some cool stickers from Red Bubble to get them started making it unique to them.
5. Homage Tshirt
It's no secret that we love Homage shirts - they are SO comfortable. They also offer options for sports and pop culture fans in both youth and adult sized. My son and Kristie's husband both have this You're Killin' Me Smalls Tshirt. It comes in youth and adult sizes. Honestly, a Homage Tshirt tops the list every time I'm buying for the boys and men in my house. If you've never tried Homage before, use this link for $20 off your first purchase.
6. Alex Rider Books
My family is big into reading, so I love giving book suggestions. The hot series right now with my tween boys is Alex Rider, kid spy. There's a little bit of language and potty humor, but they're fast-paced and adventure-filled.
7. Savings Bond
No joke, my 12-year-old son asked me about the bonds I received from my grandparents when I was a kid because he knows I used them to buy my first car. He wants to put them on his wish list (though I got a shocked look when I told him I had to wait 20 years to cash them in if I wanted the full value). I looked into it, and the hard copy EE bonds I got as a kid were discontinued in 2012. But you can still give savings bonds electronically and then print gift certificates to give as gifts. Plan ahead, because it requires that the recipient have an account set up.
8. Escape Room in a box
My son received this as a gift, and we're planning a sleepover for some of his friends to try it out. It's a one-time-use game because you end up tearing and destroying supplies in your quest to escape. There are several different versions and run between $10 and $15.
UPDATE: We had our escape room party! The boys who were into it - my sons included - LOVED it. The boys who weren't into it just weren't really into it, and that's fine, too. They did escape, but it captivated them for two full hours. It says up to 6 players, but that made it really hard for everyone to read and see things. I would say stick to maybe three players.
9. Rock Em Socks
These are expensive for everyday socks, but they're a super fun gift. We live in Ohio and are big Buckeye fans, so these are the ones we have. But they have all kinds of different designs.
10. Fun money.
Lots of tweens are saving for bigger ticket items and they honestly want gift cards or cash. You can give cash or gift cards in a clever way. Free options include wrapping a box within a box within a box to throw them off. The options below are other affordable and creative ways to give gift cards and cash.
Puzzle Pod - If you want to get a little more creative, this puzzle lets you design your own set of clues that lead to a three-letter word of your choosing that opens the pod and reveals the gift.