Archive for Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Experiences make the most meaningful holiday gifts

Advice for teens & parents

November 21, 2006


Dr. Wes: The biggest shopping day of the year is coming, and parents are wondering what to buy for their teen. Since Sony can't produce enough Play Station 3s, we'd better come up with a Plan B. Ignoring media hype, we'll offer some on- and offbeat suggestions for Christmas shopping.

An adventure: I think the best gift you can give a teenager is a new experience. If you shop around you may find some amazing bargains on airfare. Check airline Web sites. Many offer systems for selling out low-demand seats. Parents can book a cheap flight to somewhere their teen has never been or a favorite past destination. Trips to Chicago can run under $100 round trip. For seniors, I suggest a summer 2007 road trip with a reasonably trustworthy friend. Young adults can learn a lot about taking care of themselves this way, which comes in handy when they're off to college or living on their own. Parents might set up a partial fund for that adventure, allowing the teenager to earn the remainder. Incidentally, John is writing his column from China this week. Talk about adventures.

A nice date: Too many teenagers think spending time with the opposite sex means hanging out and hooking up. Why not share a better method by funding a nice night on the town? You could send your teens and their date to the Plaza for a carriage ride, dinner and a movie, or just downtown to one of many excellent restaurants right here in River City.

Gift certificates for recreation: This takes some insight into your teen's interests and developmental level. You can get certificates for anything from batting practice to a pedicure to dance lessons. Don't try too much social engineering, however. If just you really want your kid to try ballet or play soccer, a Christmas gift certificate isn't the way to get her interested. Stick to activities you know they'll like.

Gift certificates for media: This takes no insight at all. You see, back in the old days our folks gave us the latest album from the Bee Gees. They saw "Saturday Night Fever" and thought we wanted to boogie down. Too bad if we preferred KISS. In these iPod times, parents don't have to run the risk of media humiliation. Check out an iTunes gift certificate and let teens download exactly what they like - and you don't. The same is true for video games, big-screen movies, DVDs, etc.

A laptop. It's tough to get through school without good access to computers and the Internet. And how would your teen keep up with Instant Messenger, MySpace and World of Warcraft without them? An investment in a mobile computer yields significant returns. Look into long-term financing as many big-box stores offer 12- to 24-month financing at zero percent for those with good credit. This can make all the difference, especially on products that will be obsolete about a year after they are paid off.

Gas. If you think gasoline prices are hard on your wallet, try being 16. You finally have a license to drive, and someone at BP just priced it out of your salary range. We went through the same thing in the late '70s while hiding from the Bee Gees. So we can empathize. A very nice gift this holiday season is a gas card. Unfortunately, of all the suggestions I've made so far, this one gives you the least bang for the buck. But for teenagers who are expected to pay for their own gas, this may be the most magnificent gift of the year.

John: Here's my list:

A party: Kids today think they know how to party, but they could always use a little help. I have attended too many parties where the host had no plan for the evening, and the mood suffered as a result. Many teenagers do not have experience in planning a social event, and even more are intimidated by the thought of assuming this responsibility on their own. Parents can take the initiative by planning events and organizing snacks. Teens can invite guests, clean rooms, etc., so they can lean how to host the party themselves next time. Plenty of party games can be found online, and if you want a really interesting night, try planning a murder mystery. Planning a party can be stressful, but I've always found it worth it.

Nature: In his book, "The Last Child in the Woods," Richard Louv wrote that young people today are suffering from "nature deficit disorder." Symptoms of NDD include listen to iPods instead of chirping crickets and playing video games instead of hiking trails. To defend against this epidemic, parents should consider giving the gift of nature to their teens. This can take many forms, which you can adjust to meet your own resources. A camping trip or sailboat ride can provide a head-on experience with nature, but they're not your only options (especially in December). Try going to a greenhouse to find aesthetic trees. Then pick a spot on your property to plant it as monument for generations to come. If your teen is an environmentalist, you can even buy a section of the Amazon to defend in her name.

Culture: Exposure to culture can be one of the most memorable gifts a teen receives. Here again, parents have a lot of options. Lawrence has plenty of art and a jazzy music scene, but leaving town can do wonders to stretch a teenager's cultural mind. While traveling to Mexico, Britain, Hungary and China, I have learned more about other societies than I ever could have picked up my social studies class. Even a short excursion close to home can expand horizons. Keep an eye out for shows and plays opening in town, or visit a local museum. Finally, parents should not rule out purchasing poetry or great literature for those who will enjoy this gift.

Next week: A teen asks what to do with her promiscuous friends.

- Dr. Wes Crenshaw is a board-certified family psychologist and director of the Family Therapy Institute Midwest. John Murray is a Free State High School senior. Opinions and advice given here are not meant as a substitute for psychological evaluation or therapy services. Send your questions about adolescent issues to All correspondence is strictly confidential.


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