By Samurai Mom
Update 5/1/20: The world looks different and our experiences will be different too. The gift ideas marked with an asterisk and an orange font are those that are likely to be possible with social distancing. Hope that you and your family are well!
If you just want to skip the intro and go to the 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.
- First, there’s that thrill of acquisition. You know that feeling – the retail therapy?
- As time goes on, the feeling fades.
- Before long, what was an exciting or novel object becomes part of the background in my life. I barely notice it.
- 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 Types
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?
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
Plane ticket to reconnect with a favorite friend or relative.
*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!
*Online 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. Outside walking tours can accommodate social distancing guidelines.
*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? Take this online for now:
*Donate an animal (or a share) in your dreamer’s name to Heifer International – help turn the world around, one family at a time.
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 – gift card to be used for a future experience. This can help your teen have something to look forward to!
*Bungee Jumping or Zipline Experiences – Release some adrenaline for a great time outdoors. As these kinds of tours open up again, there will be social distancing and specialized care of equipment to minimize risk.
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. Maybe – depends on the practices at the batting cage in your area!
*Superfood Mix Starter Pack – High octane nutrition
*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; redeem when social distancing guidelines are eased.
*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
*Living Composter I love this kitchen-counter-sized composter! This would be great for a caregiver/gardener or a biology-loving kid.
*Self Help book to inspire girls’ self-confidence
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
*Space Exploration MasterClass – If “Space, the final frontier” is your kid’s jam, here’s an online class taught by a NASA astronaut.
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
*Jimmy Chin Teaches Adventure Photography Master Class
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
*School of Rock Classes -Remote lessons available!
*Zipline Canopy Adventure – As these kinds of tours open up again, there will be social distancing and specialized care of equipment to minimize risk.
Paintball with friends
YEA Camp – A gift to put all that desire for change to work for social good
*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
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
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
Cloud 9 Living e-Giftcard– Overall source of experience gifts for the creator
Museum membership – Museum of Modern Art
Natalie Portman teaches Acting MasterClass
Jodie Foster teaches Filmmaking
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.
Help your emerging photographer get to the next level with ImprovePhotography.com
Hip Hop Dance for Beginners on Udemy
Tap Dancing Classes on Udemy
Cooking classes or cooking club memberships
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
Festival Tour Trip
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)
Arcade night for two – the works: tokens, soda, snacks!
GoKart racing – tickets for two
Acting classes – Acting for the camera
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?
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
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)
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
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
How to Become an Entrepreneur at a Young Age 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
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
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!
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