gifts they might actually want

The Best Gifts for Tween Boys, According to Tween Boys

Photo-Illustration: The Strategist; Photos: Retailers

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Tween boys (roughly ’tween the ages of 9 and 12) straddle a real middle ground. While they’re interested in a lot of the same things as 17-year-olds and even some adults, many of them still enjoy playing with plush toys. But when we talked to a handful of tweens, we learned all they really wanted was to not be treated like children — meaning no one wants Legos, but lots want a PS5. And an Apple Watch. And a new phone.

We’re sure plenty of adults wouldn’t mind those gifts, either, so here, we asked them to go beyond the obvious, including the games, activities, toys, tech, and books they’re hoping for, as well. Jennifer Lynch, a content developer and toy-trends specialist at the Toy Association, says kids don’t actually play less as they enter their tween and teen years, rather, “how they play is really what changes.” As the mom of a tween boy myself, I’ve noticed my son’s most recent wishlists — which include collectible Funko Pops, Nintendo Switch accessories, and drawing supplies — usually fall into these categories, too.

So after speaking with tweens, parents, game developers, bookstore owners, and toy specialists, we’ve gathered their top recommendations and separated them by type. There’s a breadth of gifts in each category at a wide range of prices, and they run the gamut from Bluetooth speakers to VR sets to Pokémon cards — and yes, some tweens really do just want that PS5, so if you’re down to splurge, we’ve included the option as well.


‘Wordle The Party Game’

“One of the best ways to hold a tween’s attention is when you are gathering around a board game,” says Mary Couzin, founder and CEO of People of Play. She’s a fan of this board game version of the viral hit Wordle, because solving it is a group effort: One player writes down a secret five-letter word while the other players try to figure it out in as few attempts as possible.

‘5 Second Rule’

If you want something a little more fast-paced, try this card game. With only five seconds to name three things based on a card prompt, “you never know what kind of wacky answers you’re gonna spit out,” says Jackie Cucco, senior editor at the Toy Insider, about 5 Second Rule, a Strategist best-selling game.

Couzin’s favorite fast-paced game for tweens is Hand-to-Hand Wombat, which comes from the makers of two other Strategist-approved games, Throw Throw Burrito and Exploding Kittens. Players close their eyes and work together in teams of “good wombats” and “bad wombats” to either construct or destroy towers before time runs out. Afterward, everyone opens their eyes and tries to vote out the bad wombats.

If they like football, they’ll probably love Fourth Down, a fast-paced card game that sets players up on offense and defense in pursuit of the elusive TouchDown card. It’s certainly age-appropriate, as the game’s creator made it when he was a teen himself.

Unlike traditional Rubik’s Cubes, Speed Cubes have rounded corners and built-in springs that make for super-smooth twisting movement and fast-paced problem solving. They’re great gifts for tweens who want to set a new PR on their Rubik’s Cube time, but they’d also work for any kid who wants a fluid-feeling fidget toy.

Spikeball Game Set

Spikeball takes the tools of volleyball and adds the rules of foursquare; it’s a great game for tweens who have some extra energy. Plus, according to the PE teachers at Wood End Elementary School in Reading, Massachusetts, it helps build teamwork and sportsmanship among their third-, fourth-, and fifth-graders. (We’ve spotted it countless times in McCarren and Prospect Parks, too.) This set has collapsible legs for safer play and easy storage.

These Micro Kickboards are the most recommended scooters by parents, experts, and kids, with Vox Media senior engineer manager Ryan Freebern saying the design is “super-sturdy and reliable” — his 13-year-old years old rides one to and from school on a regular basis. This sleek-looking model has two light-up wheels and is a timely upgrade for a tween who’s long outgrown a three-wheeled scooter.

Lois Kelly, mom of a tween named Ryan, says this bucket golf set is popular with this age group for its customizability, as they can move the buckets around to make courses harder or easier. The whole ensemble — which includes buckets, Wiffle balls, flag sticks, and tee boxes — fits into one carryall bag, which means it can be taken anywhere.

STEM Activities and Kits

If your tween is ready to move on from Legos, Cucco says this STEM kit will allow him to construct working 3-D circuits to learn how electricity travels throughout the home. The kit comes with 60 parts and 25 projects, so your kid will stay occupied for hours while also building science skills in the process.

Jayme Cellitioci, a creativity-and-innovation strategist for the National Inventors Hall of Fame, recommends gifting this kit from Kiwi Co. that includes all of the tools, instructions, and doodads necessary to build an actual walking robot. Budding engineers can tinker with real electronic components to make mechanical motion and customize their robot’s skin to their liking. (One tip Cellitioci shares when it comes to kits like these is to include time together to actually build it: “Sometimes, project-based kits sit on the shelf. When you give a kit that includes time to get together and create or build, perhaps even pre-watching resource videos that might come with the kit, it increases the odds of a young person gaining a meaningful STEM experience.”)

E-Blox co-owner Jim Seymour says their most popular gift for tweens this year is this DJ set, which allows them to use circuits to build their own console that plays three original songs and 15 different DJ sounds. They can also connect their own music device to the included speakers via Bluetooth.

If your tween has his sights set on Meta’s smart glasses, Lynch says this Bill Nye VR Science Kit from Abacus Brands is more age-appropriate way to scratch their VR itch — and it’s also a Strategist best seller. The kit includes 30 hands-on science experiments, such as making ice crystals or building a solar-powered bug, and a pair of goggles that lets your tween learn right alongside Nye.

Also from Abacus Brands is this Penn & Tell VR Magic Lab, which Couzin tells us is up for multiple toy awards this year. Not only would this gift suit tweens interested in magic, as the VR goggles help bring a 50-page instructional guide on different tricks to life, but Couzin says the sleight-of-hand lessons from professional magicians will also help them build confidence and social-awareness skills.

Arts and Crafts

Sitting somewhere in between these STEM-focused kits and traditional arts and crafts is the 3Doodler. It’s a 3-D pen kit that lets them make smaller-scale creations, similar to what you could make with a 3-D printer. Lynch says it allows kids to make just about anything they can think up — like a figurine for their desk or a tiny bowl to hold spare change. (It’s been a favorite among our readers for years, too.)

Of course, you can go the straightforward arts and crafts route for an artistic type. Cullen Gardepe, assistant director and lead teacher at A Spunky Little Arts Co., says instead of toys, tween boys would benefit from student-level art supplies in the particular medium they’re interested in to help them develop their craft. Gardepe says these TikTok-popular Posca paint markers fit the bill and would make a solid gift for any emerging artist.

For his two sons who love drawing and making comic books, Freebern says he gave them Making Comics, a how-to guide to graphic storytelling, and these high-quality layout pages to aid in their drafting process.


Several boys we spoke to said they would like to receive books from a favorite series. Joshua said he wants to read the next Diary of a Wimpy Kid, while George specifically asked for the Fullmetal Alchemist graphic novels.

Shereen Rahming says her 10-year-old son, Ian, immediately took to the otherworldly and adventure-driven Tristan Strong series because “he can actually relate to [the main character]. He looks like him, he speaks like him, and his family looks like our family.” If your tween falls in love with the story, your future gifting plans are set, as there are two more books in the series.

The Stars Beneath Our Feet follows a boy who’s “trying to search for answers, figure things out, and make sense of the world around [him],” says Kazz Alexander Pinkard, executive director of Hit the Books, an after-school nonprofit in Harlem. He says they’re themes any tween can relate to.

Toys and Collectibles

Lynch says stress-alleviating toys like slime and fidget putty are growing in popularity with tweens, making them a collectible of their own. That includes Charlie, 11, whose favorite is Crazy Aaron’s Thinking Putty. As an anti-slime parent, I can say the texture of this putty is far less cumbersome and more rubbery compared with slime, making it easier to handle and less likely to leave behind a trail of residue.

As a self-professed Pokémon megafan, 10-year-old Miles says this trainer box is his favorite present out of everything he received for his birthday. With eight booster packs with cards featuring Pokémon Sword and Pokémon Shield video games, 65 card sleeves, 45 energy cards, and a handful of other accessories, the box is an impressive addition to any tween’s deck and holds enviable cards he can swap.

Michael, 9, says he really wants basketball trading cards because with fewer players in the league this season, there’s a higher chance he’ll get the cards he wants. Each box contains six packs with 15 cards per pack.

Michael also wants Minecoins, which he can use to get new skins, texture packs, maps, and other cool features in the Minecraft universe.

Along with the Pokémon box set above, Miles says he considers this 12-inch Eevee plush to be one of his most prized possessions. Not only is Eevee his favorite Pokémon, he says he likes that he can use this jumbo plush as décor and a cozy pillow.

These figurines are popular collectibles with tweens, with hundreds of different characters to choose from favorite shows, games, and comics. For their collections, Joshua, an 11-year-old in sixth grade, said in a previous version of this story that he wants a Dwight Schrute Funko Pop!, and Matthew, a then-sixth grader, said he wanted Todoroki Funko Pop! from the anime series My Hero Academia.


In addition to Funko Pops!, Matthew wants a set of color-changing LED lights. Tweens can choose from 16 colors to instantly customize a space to fit their mood. It doesn’t hurt that the LEDs work as good TikTok lighting as well.

Segal says this Amazon Alexa–connected Echo Glow gives her sons ambient light without making them feel like little kids. “But whatever you do, don’t call it a nightlight,” she says. Tweens can play with the light’s color settings and patterns to personalize their rooms, but they can also use it if they have a hard time waking up for school — Segal says the device gradually brightens until it’s time for the alarm to go off.

Clothing and Accessories

Tweens love Crocs just as much as adults (seemingly) do, and 10-year-old Rex D. is no exception. He wants two new pairs in preferably brights or neons, and he’d personalize his by wearing a mismatching set.

And to pair with his Crocs, Rex wants tall socks like HUSO’s that are tie-dye or neon “because they’re comfortable, and I like the way they look.” He’s not alone: When we talked to kids who were preparing to go back to school, they told us they really don’t like no-show socks — tall ones (especially in funky colors) are the way to go.

Kelly says GOAT USA apparel, including this graphic tee, is very popular with her son and other boys his age. They’re drawn to the shades-wearing, crown-adorned goat logo — and of course, the “GOAT” messaging.


Joshua says the Nintendo Switch is “the coolest gift I could imagine getting,” and most of the boys we spoke to agreed: They either wanted it or already had one. Rajan, a 10-year-old, says he likes that it’s portable and that you can get the same games you would on an Xbox, if not more. If your tween already has a Switch, the boys recommend gifting more games or controllers.

Apple AirPods

More than half of the boys we talked to said they wanted a pair of AirPods or AirPods Pro. “I think they’re nicer than over-ears because they’re not as bulky, so I can just put them in my pocket,” says Sasha, 12, who wants them for listening to podcasts and Drake.

Rex told us one of his favorite things to do after practice is play Xbox with his friends, all of whom wear mic headsets to talk to one another. For the gamer in your life, we’d recommend gifting this wireless pair that Kahlief Adams, host of the gaming podcast Spawn on Me, says has “stunning, immersive sound at a fantastic price.”

This waterproof and dustproof Bluetooth speaker gives kids the freedom to play their own tunes in their own space, says Tobey Grumet Segal, a tech writer and mother of two tween boys. She says whether the boys use it in the shower or throw it in a beach bag, “we never have to worry about it breaking,” as it’s built with water-resistant materials and shock-absorbing pads.

Parker loves playing his guitar and is hoping to get a new amp. This one has a headphone jack, so he can practice at any time without disturbing others, and it’s also compact enough to carry around.

Sony’s Playstation 5 is on — if not at the very top of — the wishlists of nearly every tween boy we spoke to. Noah, 12, primarily says he likes that it’s the newest console in the PlayStation lineup — complete with exclusive games, strong processing power, 4K display, and a touch-responsive controller — but he also tells us the PS5’s online-gaming capabilities make it easier to connect with friends from school. But the device will last tweens for years to come, regardless of what their friends are using, as the PS5 offers cross-generational play — so if your kid’s friend has a PS4, they can still quest on Sackboy together.

Additional reporting by Liza Corsillo and Jordan Bowman.

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The Best Gifts for Tween Boys, According to Tween Boys