12/06/2013 10:06 am ET Updated Feb 05, 2014

How to Think Like, and Shop for, Teens

There may be no trickier age group to shop for than teenagers. It's been, um, a minute since I last was one, but not long enough that I don't remember how hard my parents tried to pick out the right gifts for me or how often they got it wrong! Teenagers are incredible picky and constantly changing. If they don't like something you gift them, they'll let you know, if not by their words, then by the lack of enthusiasm on their faces. So, to avoid getting it all wrong, follow these tips below on how to tap into the teen psyche and get a gift that won't embarrass them or you!

If you like it, put it back.
Often, with gifts, we have a tendency to get what we want ourselves. This generally doesn't work with adults, but this really doesn't work with teens. This isn't to say that you can't have anything in common with a teenager, but when shopping for one, make sure to take yourself out of the equation. Try to channel them and their interests. Do they play sports? Are they in drama club? Are they holed up in their room reading comic books every time you see them?

Don't try to be "cool."
Teenagers can spot this from miles away and it's anathema to them. Being cool is very specific and personal, and if you try to get something you think is hip or of the moment, chances are you'll get it wrong. Just because "all the kids are doing it these days," doesn't mean your particular teen adheres to that set of "cool" guidelines. Get specific. Ask their parents for names of authors they like, and bands they listen to.

When in doubt, ask an expert.
There's no better expert on teens than teens themselves. If you're not sure what to get them, and their parents aren't very helpful, go straight to the source. Ask them! No one is shy when it comes to being showered with gifts, not even teens.

Make sure to include a gift receipt.
Even if you do all your homework and you're on the right track to finding the perfect gift, something can still go wrong. Maybe someone else got them their favorite author's new book too, or maybe you came really close to understanding their style but not close enough. Include a gift receipt and don't get offended if they use it. Be happy they picked out a gift they like rather than one that will just sit in their closet collecting dust.

When all else fails, go gift certificate.
Nailing a gift that's the exact right combination of thoughtful, personal, and creative is the dream. But if you're truly stumped, remember, the gift certificate is always your friend. Find out what stores your teen shops at, which movie theater they go to, or if they prefer music, coffee, or books.

When it comes to shopping for teens, no one said it would be a breeze. But hopefully these tips help take the sting out of the job this holiday season and beyond. Happy teen gifting!


Dana Holmes is a lifestyle, gift and etiquette expert who acts as Editor in Chief of and the Gift Rap Blog. She has been working in trend forecasting and gift recommendations for the past decade. Dana loves making occasions special with her unique gift ideas, tips and touches. She has been interviewed by the New York Times, Associated Press, Fox & Friends, TODAY in NY and many more.