Experience Gifts for Teens (100+ Ideas Based on Personality Archetypes)


By Samurai Mom

Hi there! If you’ve arrived here already convinced of the benefits of buying experience gifts and just want to skip to the dang list of 100+ gifts already, click here!


Since I shared my 77 Easy Experience Gifts to Give Your Teen post, I’ve had so many ideas that I had to write another one for fall! The first 77 were organized around interests and hobbies of teens and tweens, which lets you zoom in on a good gift match quickly. 

But I realize that not everyone is sold on the overall awesomeness of giving experience gifts over objects. Here I’ll share some of the reasons we’ve changed our own gift-giving routines and offer over 100 additional ideas to get you started. For extra fun, I’ve organized this one around Carl Jung’s archetypes of personality. No matter which type of kid you have in your family, you’ll recognize your teen or tween in this post!

If you’re new to the idea of giving experiences instead of objects, there are SO many reasons to reconsider the ritual of wrapping objects in pretty paper. 

Your Dollars Have Power

A note: It may feel as if your individual gift-giving habits don’t matter much in the big picture. Sometimes the extra effort doesn’t seem worth it, right? As I clean out my fridge, I sometimes pause at the trash barrel with a glass or plastic bottle before I wash out the container for recycling. I keep expecting recycling to become an automatic habit, but I have to remind myself each time that the collective impact of our individual decisions is massive

Think of the gifts you gave when your kids were younger. How much plastic on average did each product contain? Dolls, legos, super soaker water guns…at one time our house was full of cheap plastic. Unlike plastic bottles, the flimsy/brittle composition and other materials blended into toys make them nearly impossible to recycle. So they’re tossed into landfills and make their way into waterways. 

It takes each of us making more sustainable choices every day to influence companies, public policy and to change our culture. 

Consider the power of our consumer decisions during the holidays. In October 2018, for example, the National Retail Federation predicted that Americans would spend between $717-720 billion during the holiday season. That’s a slight uptick from average spending. And that was excluding automobiles, gas and restaurants! The truth is, we have a lot of influence over the types of products companies create. 

With those dollars, we can steer companies away from unsustainable products – away from plastics, away from the mind-boggling waste. 

Giving experience gifts is just one more way to create a cultural shift toward more sustainability.

Does the Stuff Make ‘Em Happy? 

When you think about the reasons that we give gifts of any type, it’s to create a feeling of happiness/comfort/excitement in the recipient, right? It’s the feeling we’re all after. We want to see their faces light up; we want to know that this new thing will fit a need or a perceived want, that it will make their lives better. As parents, grandparents and caregivers, we’ll go a long way to make that happen. 

But consider that most material gifts bring happiness of the fleeting kind. Psychologists have a name for this cycle – it’s called hedonic adaptation


To skip to the list of 100+ ideas, click here!


I think about my own experience of getting a new cell phone or outfit.  

  1. First, there’s that thrill of acquisition. You know that feeling – the retail therapy? 
  2. As time goes on, the feeling fades. 
  3. Before long, what was an exciting or novel object becomes part of the background in my life. I barely notice it. 
  4. If I don’t rein myself in, I’m on to the next big desire to recapture that feeling. It’s amazing how quickly I return to the status quo or my baseline of happiness. 

Teens and tweens go through the same cycle when they get material gifts. And many times, a material gift doesn’t develop their character, learning, or empathy. As I shared here, objects are just as likely to be outgrown, returned, lost, discarded or buried under a pile of clothes in a closet as they are to be used long-term for a useful purpose.

Why do we Overspend on Material Gifts Every Year? 

That’s easy: it’s because gift-giving is loaded with expectations on all sides. 

  • Maybe the mounds of presents seem to express our love better than anything else. 
  • Our senses are filled with round-the-clock advertising and social media banging the drum of consumerism. 
  • We try to live up to somebody’s ideal of the perfect family, of “doing it right”.
  • We worry that our friends and family will be disappointed if gifts don’t have a “wow” factor. 
  • Maybe they’ll [gasp] think that we’re too cheap to buy a “good” present! Oh, this one stings, right?

In our house, the pursuit of the wow factor became like an arms race when our kids were little. Every gift had to be bigger and better than the last one. Overspending became our new norm because the toys had to be at least as good as the presents that others were giving. Sound familiar? 

We weren’t alone: in the United States, our expectations about what constitutes reasonable spending for a gift has risen over the years. Other middle-class families we knew thought nothing of dropping thousands every year for gifts that would soon be lost, outgrown, outdated or discarded in weeks or months.

By the time our family opted off of this crazy ride, Christmas at our house was unrecognizable for what we had intended it to be before the kids were born: a time of family, of kindness, of celebration.  As Samurai Dad and I describe in our journey to frugality post, it was like we woke up one day and looked at how few of the choices we were making aligned with the kind of life we wanted. Like many people, we realized that we needed a new direction.

The Unfortunate End of Dud Gifts

I’ve kept a shocking statistic in my back pocket to share in case you’re not fully convinced yet that you should cut waaay down on the tsunami of plastic and waste that fills your house every holiday. 

What happens to all the dud gifts? Think of the last time you gave a present and it fell flat. The recipient mumbles appreciation, but you can tell that you missed the mark. It happens. But guess where that gift goes next when they quietly return it:  Forbes reported in 2017 that nearly 5 billion pounds of retail returns each year end up in a landfill

Let that sink in a minute. 

5 billion pounds of brand new, returned gifts every year are dumped in landfills.

These are just a few reasons why there’s a movement to change our gift-giving culture and minimize all the discarded gifts, packaging, wrapping paper and ribbon.

And aside from avoiding massive waste, plastics taking over the earth and crazy overspending, there’s a huge upside in giving experiences

Experience Gifts are Different!

They have the potential to carry more meaning. And they’re not likely to be broken, lost, stolen or discarded after the novelty wears off.

It’s a memory of a shared experience

A way to develop an interest

A  possibility of making the world better. 

Does Samurai Son remember the plastic Matchbox race track (that went on for miles) we gave him when he was seven? Maybe dimly. But he can describe the trip to Costa Rica we took in the same year. He remembers details about learning Spanish, zip-lining through a canyon, spotting a two-toed sloth during a night hike and eating fresh mangoes right off a tree. 

One thing that all these gifts below have in common is growth – strengthening our relationship with our teens; growing an interest or a hobby or helping to change the world. In other words, experiences have a stickiness factor – It’s more likely that we’ll remember them for years to come. It may even add a new dimension to how they see the world. More interactive = more memorable.

There’s an experience just right for your teen or tween that will create a memory, develop an interest or make the world better. 

11 Teen Personality Archetypes

Carl Jung famously one-upped Freud with his archetype theory, which organized personality into broad categories based on our collective unconscious as humans. Jung argued that that humans have evolved into distinct personality patterns based on our shared ancestry. Every culture on earth from every time period in human history features these archetypes and many more in their stories.

Note: Teens are constantly evolving, sometimes within the same week. Oh, who are we kidding, it’s sometimes within the same day

While we don’t want to put our teens into a box, you can use ideas from the archetypes as inspiration to give an experience gift that fits who your teen is currently. They rarely fit neatly into just one archetype, but you’ll probably see a couple of strong expressions of their personality in the following descriptions. Some of these gift suggestions below are for older teens; you know what will fit your family best.

Which of these archetypes fit your teen best who they are now?

  1. Innocent/Dreamer
  2. Hero/Warrior/Athlete
  3. Caregiver
  4. Explorer
  5. Rebel
  6. Lover
  7. Creator/Artist
  8. Jester/YouTuber
  9. Sage/Intellectual
  10. Ruler/Boss
  11. Magician/Innovator/Visionary

Every archetype has a light and a dark side. The challenge of giving experience gifts to teens based on these patterns of personality is to support positive drives and redirect or diffuse negative ones.

Gift Ideas to Match 11 Personality Archetypes 

1. The Innocent/Dreamer –  the innocent/dreamer teen sees life through the proverbial rose-colored glasses. Lucky you to have an optimist in your family! This is Forrest Gump or Dorothy from The Wizard of Oz.

  • Motto: Everything’s coming up roses!

  • Core desire: to be free and happy

  • Fear: to be punished for wrongdoing


Overall source of experience gifts for innocents/dreamers

Dinner out with friends at a fun restaurant Tex Mex or an American style grill 

Plane ticket to reconnect with a favorite friend or relative. 

Family Tour for a broader world view

Hot Air Balloon Ride

Movie Night Kit – popcorn, candy, blanket and Netflix subscription 

Cinema gift certificate – Catch the latest blockbuster with your teen or send them to the movies with a couple of friends. 

Tour of a butterfly garden – This is a total immersion experience of the wonder of butterflies. 

Dessert tour of a city -Our teens have a sweet tooth, and this is their idea of Nirvana.

Concert tickets – Catch a favorite performer – maybe even one that you and your teen can appreciate together!

Tickets to a show – Three major cities, hundreds of shows to see!

Sunset cruise or Scenic Cruise Time to relax, reconnect, learn about a region and take great selfies.

Acting classes or Improv – Encourage your innocent/dreamer to explore their creative side.

Guitar lessons – Everyone loves a guitar hero, especially one with something important to say.

Karaoke Night – Set their performer side free!

Comedy/Improv night for two

Ghost Tour – Spooky fun! Make sure that it’s fun-scary and not haunt-your-dreams-for-a-month-scary.

Plantable Mindfulness Cards – make a wish on a card and plant it in the earth! Kinda like wishing on dandelion seeds blown to the wind, but longer-lasting.

Dance classes – Love to move?

Donate an animal (or a share) in your dreamer’s name to Heifer International – help turn the world around, one family at a time.

Tour and sponsorship of animal at Happy Tales Animal Shelter

Dolphin watching/Whale watching tour

Dinner Mystery Theater – Who dunnit?  Figure it out together while you enjoy a fun dinner.

A family getaway to see the Alaskan Northern Lights


2. The Hero/Warrior/Athlete – I’ve combined the Hero, Warrior and Athlete, as they all value the struggles of life and triumphing over obstacles to build strength. Katniss from the “Hunger Games” is a good example of this archetype.

  • Motto: Who conquers himself (or herself), conquers all

  • Core desire: to prove one’s worth through courageous acts; improve the world through mastery of self and skills.

  • Fear: failure, showing weakness


Overall source of experience gifts for the hero/warrior/athlete

Bungee Jumping or Zipline Experiences – Release some adrenaline for a great time outdoors.

Intrepid Travel – See the world close up: small, customized tours that are specifically designed for families and interests. We admire this company for their cultural sensitivity and carbon-neutral practices.

*Stephen Curry Masterclass Teaches Shooting, Ball-Handling and Scoring

Simone Biles Teaches Gymnastic Fundamentals MasterClass

Wilderness/nature living skills programs

A session for two at a batting cage –  at least an hour in the cage and healthy snacks galore.

NCAA Basketball Tickets for Two
Bowling night for two or four – Rent a lane and shoes for an hour and a half; provide snacks and drinks.*

Golf Experience

Superfood Mix Starter Pack – High octane nutrition

A running enthusiast – Runtastic, MapMyRun,

MealSnap – Know your food


3. The Caregiver if your teen thinks of others first, he or she might be a caregiver archetype. Some caregiver teens wear their compassionate nature like a badge from toddlerhood, while others grow into them as they become more comfortable in their true selves.

  • Motto: The Golden Rule: treat others as you would want to be treated.

  • Core desire: to protect and care for others

  • Fear: Harm or suffering in others 


Cloud 9 Living e-Giftcard– Overall source of experience gifts for the caregiver

Donation to an animal rescue organization in your teen’s name

Intrepid Travel Wildlife Tours Get up close and personal in the wild

Sponsor a child in your caregiver’s honor at an organization like Children International

Dr. Jane Goodall teaches Conservation MasterClass

Make a donation in your teen’s name to Heifer International 

Heirloom Seed Kit 

Sunflower Garden Grow Kit

Living Composter I love this kitchen-counter-sized composter! This would be great for a caregiver/gardener or a biology-loving kid.

Manicure/Pedicure

Self Help book to inspire girls’ self-confidence

Childcare

Cooking

Sentimental gifts


4. The Explorer if your kid is always up for adventure and breaking new ground, he or she might be an explorer. Indiana Jones, Sacagawea and Amelia Earhart all share the explorer archetype.

  • Motto: Never stop exploring.

  • Core desire: to learn about self and others through exciting experiences. To grab life by the collar and run with it!

  • Fear: To be stuck in a soul-constricting routine and place.


Cloud 9 Living e-Giftcard– Overall source of experience gifts for the explorer

Action and Adventure!

*Space Exploration MasterClass  – If “Space, the final frontier” is your kid’s jam, here’s an online class taught by a NASA astronaut.

Virtual Reality Game Pass

Hot Air Balloon Ride

Intrepid Travel  – Explore Europe

Letters to My Future Self – Explorer-types are sometimes so outwardly-oriented that they neglect their inner selves. This would be a great gift to help teens explore their own insights, time-capsule style.

Basic Survival Concepts Course on Udemy

World Events

Jimmy Chin Teaches Adventure Photography Master Class

Hiking

Geography – National Geographic Destinations of a Lifetime

Maps 

Lodging 

Adventure tours

Magazine subscriptions National Geographic, Lonely Planet,  Wanderlust Travel

Navigation aids 

Endurance 


5. The Rebel Rebels want to be heard above all else. They’re often innovative and may see possibilities outside of an existing system. Think of Steve Jobs, Robert Downey Jr. and Miley Cyrus.

  • Motto: Rules are made to be broken

  • Core desire: change, revenge or revolution. To overturn what isn’t working.

  • Fear: Conformity, passivity


An experience that encourages productive use of disruptive energy would be a great gift. Here are some possibilities to help channel the rebellion or for pure entertainment:

Cloud 9 Living e-Giftcard– Overall source of experience gifts for the rebel

Action and Adventure Experiences

Drama/acting classes

Expeditions

Escape room

Indoor Skydiving

Dune Buggy Tour

School of Rock Classes

YouRace LA

Haunted Queen Mary Attraction (LA)

Zipline Canopy Adventure 

Paintball with friends

Link to Concert Tickets on TicketNetwork.com.

International Spy Museum

YEA Camp – A gift to put all that desire for change to work for social good

Walking Dead Zombie Experience in Atlanta

Young Adult Books featuring rebellious characters – books are an experience gift because they allow us to see the world through a character’s eyes.

The Book Thief, Markus Zusak

Hunger Games Series, Suzanne Collins

Matched Series, Allie Condie

Divergent Series, Veronica Roth

Uglies Series, Scott Westerfield

Throne of Glass Series, Sarah T. Maas

The Fifth Wave, Rick Yancey

The Maximum Ride Series, James Patterson

The Outsiders, SE Hinton

The Catcher in the Rye, JD Salinger

I am Not Your Perfect Mexican Daughter, Erika L. Sanchez

Moxie, Jennifer Mathieu

Dress Codes for Small Towns, Courtney Stevens


6. The Lover closely related to the caregiver and the innocent/dreamer, the lover puts harmony and strong relationships above all else.

  • Motto: love is all you need

  • Core desire: closeness, giving and receiving positive feelings. To be surrounded by people, things and experiences that make them happy

  • Fear: to be unwanted or unloved


Cloud 9 Living e-Giftcard– Overall source of experience gifts for the lover

Hot Air Balloon Ride

Italy Vegan Food Tour

Party with all their friends

Gift certificate to share an experience with friends

Dinner out for two. – arrange a chance to break bread with your  teen’s favorite peeps.

Game of Phones – low-cost app uses your cell phones and a card deck to play a scavenger hunt together!

Spa experience – massage or mani/pedi

Pollinator Garden Set – invite pollinators like bees to your garden

Getaway with Favorite People

Digital Detox Trip like all people-oriented archetypes, lovers need face-to-face interaction with others. Our digital habits make building real relationships harder. Take a break with your teen from the online world and reconnect with each other.


7. The Creator/Artist (Musician/Dancer/Actor/Chef/Writer, etc) – Creators want to experience and share perspectives of life through their creations.

  • Motto: Anything that you can imagine is real

  • Core desire: to create valuable, long-lasting interpretations of life

  • Goal: to make thoughts become things


Overall

Cloud 9 Living e-Giftcard– Overall source of experience gifts for the creator

Artist

Art Institute of Chicago

Online Art Class

Museum membership – Museum of Modern Art

Artist’s Garden Seed Kit

Actor

Actor/Director 

Sundance Film Festival

Natalie Portman teaches Acting MasterClass

Jodie Foster teaches Filmmaking

Broadway Show tickets

Dinner Mystery Theater

Writer

Author of the “Handmaid’s Tale”, Margaret Atwood, teaches Creative Writing MasterClass

Other In-person or online Writing Classes

Neil Gaiman teaches the Art of Storytelling MasterClass

“A Beautiful Mess” writers teach all the aspects of starting a successful lifestyle blog in this online course. Learn writing, videography and how to use social media to grow an audience quickly.

Photographer

Help your emerging photographer get to the next level with ImprovePhotography.com

Dancer

Hip Hop Dance for Beginners on Udemy

Tap Dancing Classes on Udemy

Cook

Food Tours 

Cooking classes or cooking club memberships

Food Tour Trips

Gordon Ramsey Cooking MasterClass

For creativity: games which help teens develop flexible thinking like Guesstures (this is an object and also an experience)

Skillshare, an Online Learning Community for Creatives


8. The Jester/YouTuber the core of this archetype is the entertainer, and these teens like to make people laugh. I’ve updated this archetype a bit because there’s no way Jung could have foreseen the phenomena of YouTube. Many YouTubers that teens follow like PewdiePie and Lilly Singh (101 and 15 million subscribers respectively)  seem to fit this archetype. 

  • Motto: I live to laugh and make others laugh

  • Core desire: to live in the moment with full enjoyment

  • Goal: to have a great time and lighten up the world

  • Fear: Living an ordinary life


Cloud 9 Living e-Giftcard– Overall source of experience gifts for the jester/YouTuber

Comedy Show

Festival Tour Trip

Stephen Colbert or Jimmy Kimmel Live (free) & dinner (varies)

The Ellen DeGeneres Show

Seth Myers Show (free) & dinner (varies)

Saturday Night Live (free) & dinner (varies) – these tickets are extremely popular and getting them takes luck or stamina (or maybe a bit of both)

YouTube Creator Academy (free), 

YouTube Training and Tutorials (Lynda.com)

Private DJ Lessons

Explore Voice Overs with Online Classes

Arcade night for two – the works: tokens, soda, snacks!

GoKart racing – tickets for two

Acting classes – Acting for the camera

Dinner Mystery Theater

Digital Detox Tour – help your YouTuber disconnect from the digital world for a little while and reconnect with you!


9. The Sage/Intellectual – the sage is easy to spot as he or she seeks knowledge in all its forms. If your kid reads voraciously, is insatiably curious and always on a quest to solve the next great puzzle in life, you’re the proud parent of a sage/intellectual.

  • Motto: Knowledge is power

  • Core desire: to find the truth about the universe

  • Goal: to use intelligence and analysis to understand the world.

  • Fear: Living in darkness or ignorance


Cloud 9 Living e-Giftcard– Overall source of experience gifts for the sage/intellectual

Lynda.com – a cool all-around site to learn technology, creative and business skills!

Dinner Mystery Theater – what’s better than dinner with a puzzling who-dunnit?

Rosetta Stone App to Learn Languages

Magazine/ezine subscriptions to The Atlantic, NY Times, The Washington Post

Local bookstore Gift Certificate

 Abe Books Weird Book Room – if your teen appreciates the strange, the throwback and just plain weird, check out the published books here. Here’s one of my favorites: SPAM: A Biography: The Amazing True Story of America’s “Miracle Meat!”

United States Trip – Learn the history of the US while you tour with your teen! Experience real Southern hospitality from New Orleans to Charleston.

Ham Radio License

Master Software Programming

Babbel Language learning course – When my teens were little, I did my very best to teach them Spanish. Then they both decided to study French in middle school. Sigh. Whichever language they choose, though, there are few things more powerful in understanding another culture.

Books for the sage/intellectual (see book recommendations for the magician/inventor/visionary)

TED Talks Online learning conferences 


10. The Ruler Boss – these teens know how to get things done. They often have strong personalities and are natural leaders. Ruler bosses can benefit from understanding that a subtle nudge towards a shared goal is often as effective as leading through control.

  • Motto: Power makes the world go ‘round.

  • Core desire: control

  • Goal: to lead a successful family or community

  • Fear: to lose the confidence of others in leadership


Cloud 9 Living e-Giftcard– Overall source of experience gifts for the ruler/boss

YouTube Creator Academy (free), 

YouTube Training and Tutorials (Lynda.com)

Model United Nations Camp

Start a small business

Master Software Programming

Entrepreneur Subscriptions – Inc. Magazine or Fast Company

Power of Choice through Personal Finance

The Simple Path to Wealth – J.L Collins

The Millionaire Next Door –  Thomas J. Stanley Ph.D., William D. Danko Ph.D. 

The 7 Habits of Highly Effective Teens– Sean Covey

Live, Learn and Lead Powerfully: A Teen Leadership Guide – Chazery “Chaz” Monteya Jackson

The Motley Fool Guide for Teens: 8 Steps for Having More Money Than Your Parents Ever Dreamed Of – David Gardner and Tom Gardner


11. The Magician/Inventor/Visionary – the rarest of all archetypes, the magician/inventor/visionary is a different kind of thinker, able to consider many possibilities (both seen and unseen) as well as share unusual insights about people and the world. This archetype is related to the sage but seems to take a step beyond existing knowledge to pull inspiration from the wider universe. Think Gandalf from “Lord of the Rings”, Bill Gates or The Oracle from “The Matrix”.

  • Motto: I am the catalyst.

  • Core desire: to understand the laws of the universe and to transcend them with the tools available (like technology)

  • Goal: to change the whole game

  • Fear: boredom


Cloud 9 Living e-Giftcard– Overall source of experience gifts for the magician/inventor/visionary

Girls Who Code Summer Immersion Program (free!) Leverage technology to create your teen’s vision.

Learn Meditation or an Udemy Class 

Meditation and Yoga Online Class on Gaia

Mindset Mastery Udemy Class

Inventor Process: the Summit

How to Become an Entrepreneur at a Young Age Udemy Class

The Law of Attraction for Teens: How to Get More of the Good Stuff, and Get Rid of the Bad Stuff Udemy Class

Learning the Art of Magic from the Masters – Penn & Teller

Book Ideas – here are some titles which may inspire your magician/inventor/visionary and sage/intellectual. There are a range of middle- and high-school reading levels here:

Cradle to Cradle: Remaking the Way We Make Things, William McDonough

Geofuels: Energy and the Earth, Alan R. Carroll

Is time travel possible? : theories about time, Tom Jackson (middle school level)

The Dialogues: Conversations about the Nature of the Universe, Clifford J. Johnson

Harry Potter Series, J.K. Rowling

Mind to Matter: The Astonishing Science of How Your Brain Creates Material Reality, Dawson Church

I Am Malala: How One Girl Stood Up for Education and Changed the World, Malala Yousafzai

The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind: Creating Currents of Electricity and Hope, William Kamkwamba

Steve Jobs: The Man Who Thought Different: A Biography, Kate Blumenthal

Women in Science: 50 Fearless Pioneers Who Changed the World, Rachel Ignotofsky


Cloud 9 Experience Gifts for the Whole Family


Finally, experience gifts don’t have to cost much. Here’s a “catalog” of fun and free gifts that you can give your family and friends that feature skills you already have to share. After you’ve chosen the gift(s), use this template to make a book full of redeemable coupons: More Fun, Less Stuff!

I hope that you found some ideas here that inspired you to enrich your teen’s (or someone else’s) life. Happy experience-gifting!

Thanks for reading our post. If you enjoy reading our ParentSamurai thoughts about raising teens and tweens, please share!

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