Ask a Teen
What Presents Do Teens Really, Really Want This Year?
12.17.19

Buying the perfect gift for anyone is a project, but you’re aiming at a moving target when you’re buying for a teen. That’s why we surveyed hundreds of them via Instagram, to find out what’s at the top of their lists, what’s at the bottom of their lists (also important!), and which beauty, fashion, and tech brands everyone’s obsessing over this year.


The “It Gifts” of 2019 Are…

The most common answer to our question about what teens actually want for Christmas was, well, anything from Glossier. Many teens wanted Solution, while others asked for Balm Dot Com or eye makeup. (Paula’s Choice was the most popular skincare after Glossier.) Elsewhere in the beauty department: one teen desires a jade roller, while another asked for a gua sha tool. Shoes were a big obsession too, with the most coveted brands being Dr Martens, Converse, and Vejas. Outdoor Voices has a lot of teen love as well, especially the Exercise Dress and Megafleece.

“Everyone wants a vintage f***ing camera.”

 

Other respondents mentioned the iPhone 11, Nike Air Force 1s, weighted blankets, and Harry Styles tickets, while one teen complained that “everyone wants a vintage f***ing camera.” A couple teens also mentioned hoping for a subscription to the New York Times Crossword Puzzle, and a few others said they desire jewelry from Mejuri. Of note: Many teens agreed that AirPods were the It Gift of 2018, and will probably remain high on their lists this year.

What They Want for Their Bookshelves:

Nothing Fancy by Alison Roman
Little Weirds by Jenny Slate
Fleabag: The Scriptures by Phoebe Waller-Bridge
White Girls by Hilton Als
Trick Mirror by Jia Tolentino
How to Do Nothing by Jenny Odell
A Little Life by Hanya Yanagihara
Find Me by Andre Aciman
Notes on a Nervous Planet by Matt Haig

Gifts for Friends Are Handmade and Personal

Some teens keep gifting limited to immediate family only, while others try to do little gifts for close friends. Many said they do a gift exchange or secret Santa with their friend groups. Homemade gifts like cards or cookies are easy to give more widely. As one teen put it: “I try to thrift interesting gifts for as many people in my life as possible. I’m really into making art for people. My friends really like when I paint memes for them.”

Crush gifts do not pass the vibe check.

We also heard from a teen who said gift exchanges aren’t a big part of her family’s culture. “My family don’t really buy gifts. We’re a Singaporean Chinese family, and I think the way we celebrate Christmas is very different from how Americans usually do,” they said. “Mostly I just buy them for my closest friends and whoever I happen to be seeing romantically at that time.”

Crushes Are *Not* on the Holiday Shopping List

For most of the teens we talked to, buying a gift for a crush is a no-go. In the words of one eloquent teen: “Crush gifts do not pass the vibe check.” (Sound off in the comments if you’d like me to ask the teens what a “vibe check” is in next month’s column.)

Many teens said they would buy a gift for a boyfriend or girlfriend, including one who revealed she was planning to give her boyfriend some skincare items because he only knows about face wash and acne cream. A few respondents said that a gift that contains an inside joke or callback is especially nice for a partner, while another said, “I’m the only gift they should need.”

I sold [my Justin Bieber] tickets and bought an electric guitar instead.

Guess Where They Scope Out Gifts?

Most teens found the things they want on social media. Some specified that they looked at influencer gift lists, while others shouted out individual YouTubers like Emma Chamberlain. One teen, who’s asking for Clarks Wallabees, cited her dad as a style icon. A few proud teens described doing some real-life window shopping to find gifts, and others said they were influenced by friends.

The Best (and Worst) Gifts They’ve Ever Gotten:

A large portion of the Gen Z-ers we talked to mentioned experiential gifts as their favorites. Sometimes the experiences were trips or meals, but a lot of them were concerts—Taylor Swift, Harry Styles, and Rihanna. “The best gift I ever received was Justin Bieber tickets when I was 11,” recounted one teen. “But then I stopped liking him by the time the concert came around, so I sold the ticket and bought an electric guitar instead (a cream white Fender).”

Other favorites were pets as gifts, and gifts that had stories behind them. Two different teens said their favorite gift ever was a KitchenAid stand mixer (???). Some of the bad gifts described were joke gifts, which several of teens saw as boring or wasteful. Others were gifts that seemed impersonal, like a pair of earrings for a teen who didn’t have her ears pierced.

How They Get Into the Holiday Spirit:

Lots of teens talked about how much they love Christmas music, and many waxed poetic about watching Elf. Several talked about seeing family, putting up decorations, ice skating, and lighting seasonally scented candles. A few mentioned eggnog and Christmas cookies. One teen said that the way they get into the Christmas spirit is by “putting extra effort into making plans with friends.” The number one way to get into the Christmas spirit? Two words, one magnificent woman: Mariah Carey.

Graphics by Lorenza Centi.

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