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While choosing gifts for kids of any age can be hard, buying gifts for tweens has an extra layer of difficulty. That's because they're right in that in-between spot, where they're torn between wanting toys, games and fun things like a kid and asking for tech, clothes and more sophisticated things like a teenager.
The Good Housekeeping Institute knows what gifts will meet them at their level through constant testing and surveying. Lab experts call in toys and other gifts, test them to make sure they're built correctly and safe, and then ship them out to real tweens for feedback. (The favorites from testers of every age go on to win Good Housekeeping Best Toy Awards.) After hearing from countless tweens, and adding in some trendy editor's picks and best-sellers, these rose to the top as the best toys and gifts for 12-year-old boys this year.
Our top picks for the best gifts for 12-year-olds in 2023:
The Don't Laugh Challenge: 12-Year-Old Edition, $8 on amazon.com
The Two Million Dollar Puzzle by MSCHF, $11 on amazon.com
Educational Insights Kanoodle Extreme Puzzle Game, $12 on amazon.com
Air Hogs Zero Gravity Laser Race Car, $29 on amazon.com
MYNT3D Super 3D Pen, $70 on amazon.com
Sky Viper Vector Stunt Plane, $76 on target.com
As you can see, puzzles, games and anything that combine the two are a big hit this year, which is good for those growing tween brains!
Looking for more great gifts? Check out these Good Housekeeping guides:
Vector Stunt Plane
Most of the drones we tested are only rated for kids 14+, but the Sky Viper Vector Stunt Plane is easy enough for tweens to handle. That's because of its auto-stabilization feature, which even accounts for winds. In the air, it can fly up to 35 mph, do barrel rolls and make 360-degree loops. It also has other neat bells and whistles, like a tracer that beeps when it lands so you can find it again. Ages 12+
Spin Flip Puzzle - Hypnotic - Spin it, Flip it, Solve it! for Those who Love Brain teasers! Adult Fidget Toy. Great Gift for Mom, Dad, Teens, Men and Women
TikTok and other social media sites are buzzing about the #KanoodleChallenge — and, after trying to complete the puzzles in the brainteasing Kanoodle game, it's easy to see why. But tweens can show off their intellectual prowess with Kanoodle Extreme, which offers bigger and better challenges. Cards start players off by making a certain shape, and players have to use their wits to see how the rest of the pieces fit in to complete the puzzle. Ages 8+
LOL 101: A Kid's Guide to Writing Jokes
This book not only takes kids through the process of joke-writing, it also gives them pointers on timing and delivery, which is good for their self-confidence. Good Housekeeping Institute testers had a lot of laughs with this one. Ages 7 – 12
When it's time to take notes, this is a pen. But, when it's time to listen to lectures, tweens can take apart, twist and bend, and connect the magnetic shaft into different shapes like a fidget toy. It comes with 14 magnetic rings, 30 steel balls, two stylus heads and a box to keep it all in. Ages 12+
The Two Million Dollar Puzzle by MSCHF
It pays for tweens to put this jigsaw puzzle together — literally. When they're done, users can scan a QR code that'll win them real money. The catch? The value ranges, from $1 all the way up to a million dollars. But do it fast, because the last day to redeem us February 28, 2024. Ages 5+
Super 3D Pen
With this kit, they'll be able to design, plan and create their own 3D-printed objects by melting filaments in different colors. The kit comes with a pen (users can adjust the flow of the filament through the pen), a DesignPad to help form neat geometric shapes, and a FreePad to help trace different patterns. You can also get additional filament in different colors.
Lying, cheating, bribing, bluffing? It's just part of the game. In this card game, players are given cards that give them roles like Assassin, Captain and Contessa, and each person has their own ability (like being able to steal from other players or see their cards). Each player must use their skills to their advantage and try to gain absolute power over the others. It's a game designed to be learned quickly and played in 15 minutes, which makes it good to keep around for whenever friends are hanging out. Ages 10+
The Don't Laugh Challenge: 12 Year Old Edition
This is basically a cross between a game of skill and a joke book: Players take turns reading the jokes to each other, and the opponent has to try not to laugh. They'll get to work on their ability and comic timing, but really, in the end, everyone breaks!
Zero Gravity Laser Race Car
Tweens can use the included laser to guide this car across the floor, sure, but it gets even cooler than that — it also drives up walls and even onto the ceiling! Good Housekeeping Institute testers said this had a huge "wow" factor. Ages 8+
He'll never miss a text or social-media post, even in winter, when he's wearing these touchscreen gloves. They're soft and warm, too — no wonder they've received nearly 33,000 five-star reviews on Amazon!
Complete 22" Skateboard
If your tween is looking to get started skating, Amazon reviewers say this is the perfect board for beginners that holds up well. Plus, it comes in about two dozen color combos and patterns, so you can find one that suits their style.
XSound Go Bluetooth Speaker
Now he can share his tunes wherever he goes. This speaker connects either wirelessly with Bluetooth or through a USB-C, and can operate for 24 hours on a batter charge. It's even waterproof, so he can bring it with him in the shower.
Lego Minifigure Photography
He's spent a lifetime building elaborate LEGO sets — now what? He can share his art with the world with this how-to kit, which gives ideas for cool photographs he can take using his LEGO sets. It comes with props and pieces to help him take his photos to the next level, like a clear posing rod, plus tips and tricks about using different photography techniques.
He can stick this to his phone or other device, and instantly have a few extra pockets for storage. The elastic wallet can hold five cards, has a hidden pocket for cash and has a thin metal plate inside so it's also magnetic. There's even a finger strap, which makes taking selfies easier. (Note: It does not stick to silicone device cases.)
He'll love folding and unfolding this confounding box, revealing all the groovy patterns inside, and then trying to figure out how to get it back into cube form again. According to Shashibo, it can make 70 different configurations (and there's an app that can help with that), but he might just like the feeling of using it as a fidget toy. Ages 8+
Retro Mini Fridge
He'll be so excited to keep cold drinks in a spot that's his alone. This mini fridge is just big enough to hold six cans, which he'll thrill to have at arm's reach at all times. The retro design also comes in four different colors.
Slammo Game Set
Slammo is great for athletic kids who are ready to try a demanding sport. Players work in teams of two, and each team has three hits to return the ball to the circular net (which is harder than it sounds). The set comes with everything they'll need to get started, including a net, a large ball for beginners, two small balls for experienced players and a carrying case so they can bring it on the go. Ages 8+
Pillow Pad Tablet Stand
If he watches videos on his device for hours, frequently FaceTimes with friends, uses an e-reader more than a paper book or needs to reference his screen while he's doing homework, this plush stand will make it easy by holding his tablet up for him. It has three viewing angles (or folds away when not in use), and also has a pocket to keep charging cords and other helpful items. He can use it to watch his device in bed, on a couch or anywhere he might want to get cozy.
Magical Felt Pens
He can add textures, layers and other details — or just correct some mistake — with these markers, which come with a neat trick: two either erase the color or change the color to something else. There are 16 felt pens in total.
Good Housekeeping Kids Bake!
Sweet or savory, breakfast or dessert, this cookbook has it all, courtesy or the baking experts in the Good Housekeeping Institute test kitchens. If he envisions himself on the path to becoming a future Bake-Off contestant, he'll love whipping up these treats, including spanakopita, spicy beef pies or double chocolate chip cookies. Ages 8 – 12
Cranium 25th Anniversary Edition
Whether you played Cranium back in the day or are a Cranium newbie, you can usher in fun for the entire family with the 25th Anniversary Edition of the classic board game. The game challenges players to use their brains in different ways, be it by drawing on a white board o sculpting a clue out of clay. The refreshed version has 800 new questions to try, so fire up those brain cells! Ages 12+
It may look like a regular beanie on the outside, but the knit actually contains a pair of wireless headphones. That means he can listen to his music, hear podcasts or even take calls without having to use his hands. Head (and fingers) warm, tunes on — sounds like a win-win. It also comes in a variety of different patterns.
He can get those easy-breezy hammock vibes wherever he goes — without the need for trees, clips, ties or air pumps. He just has to simply wave this lounger around to fill it with air, and then it's ready for lounging. Bring it to the park or beach, use it in his room or hang out on it in the backyard.
If they ever wanted to try their hand at stop-motion animation, these figures make it easy by clicking into place, making them easy to pose and move incrementally. They also suction cup to different surfaces so they won't shift or slip. The set comes with a reversible green/blue screen sound stage, a mobile device tripod and three Stikbot figures (two people plus a horse), but you can always get more Stikbot and Klikbot figures. Ages 4+
642 Awesome Things to Draw: Young Artist's Edition
If they love to draw, make sure they never have artists' block with this book. It doesn't give them images to copy, but instead fosters their imagination: It offers prompts, asking them to create "the view from the top of a skyscraper" or "a family of lions at Thanksgiving dinner." Then they can take the idea-starters and run wild! Ages 8+
Glow-in-the-Dark Constellation Socks
For future astronomers and current space fans, these socks cool enough on their own, being inspired by the work of Margaret Gellar (known as the Cartographer of the Universe). But things get better when the lights go out: The stars glow in the dark! You can also get this as a set of PJs or a wearable blanket.
They'll have to make the most of their logic and critical thinking skills when it comes to this brain-teaser. Combining a puzzle game with a marble run, FreeFall offers challenge cards that show players how to start off the run. Then, players have to twist, flip and otherwise move the pieces to get the marble into the red cup. Ages 8+
If they're attached to their Nintendo Switch, they'll love this gaming headset, which is officially licensed by Nintendo and even comes in the classic JoyCon colors. The set also has noise-cancelling capabilities, comfy ear cups and a mic that minimizes background noise.
RELATED: The Best Gifts for Gamers
Dri-Fit Fury Reversible Head Tie
Whether they're playing sports or running around in the park or backyard, 12 years of age is when the sweat gets serious. This headband is made from a moisture-wicking material that'll keep them dry, keep the sweat out of their eyes and protect their hairstyles. It's also reversible, with a pattern on one side and a solid color on the other, and it comes in a bunch of color/pattern combos.
Professor Maxwell's VR Dinosaurs
Good Housekeeping parent testers reported that kids wanted to use this every day, since it felt so immersive. It comes with an 80-page book that comes to life in virtual and augmented reality when used with the included VR goggles. In addition, there are hands-on activities that bring the virtual dinosaurs into the real world. There are 60 pieces in all. Ages 7+
Science-minded tweens will enjoy re-creating a catapult designed by the master himself, Leonardo da Vinci. The kit makes it easy to assemble, with pre-cut wood pieces and set-by set instructions. They'll learn about engineering, physics and construction along the way. Ages 12+
Sonic the Hedgehog Plush
You don't have to be a gamer to appreciate this plush, but of course it helps if you're a Sonic fan. But it's so soft and squeezable, tweens will love using it as a pillow or a back rest, just like Good Housekeeping Institute testers did. You can also get Knuckles or Tails.
Technic John Deere 948L-II Skidder
By the time they reach 12 years old, they're definitely ready for a step-up in terms of LEGO difficulty. This set lets them build a replica of a tractor, inspired by the real John Deere 948L-II Skidder, But it doesn't just look nice — when it's done, it'll have real steering, four-wheel drive and a moving engine. Ages 11+
52' Slackline Ninja Obstacle Course
With some sturdy trees helping out, you can turn the backyard into a haven for climbers, swingers and other active kids. It comes with lots of clip-on obstacles to space out however you want, including monkey bars, gym rings, hanging knots and a five-rung ladder. Ages 6+
How we choose the best toys and gifts
For toys, the Good Housekeeping Institute does year-long toy testing to evaluate for safety, durability, and ease of use, then hands the toys over to real kids to make sure they have the all-important fun factor. While non-toy gifts are not evaluated in the Lab, editors still look for gifts put out by trusted brands, gifts with great reviews from purchasers, best-sellers and editors' favorites. The list is then vetted by Good Housekeeping editors, who, after years of curating gift guides and keeping track of trends, tries to match the items with what is popular now and what Good Housekeeping readers and families have loved in the past.
Why trust Good Housekeeping?
Much of the toy testing for this article was overseen by Rachel Rothman, the Good Housekeeping Institute's chief technologist and director of engineering, with the help of Marisa LaScala, Good Housekeeping's senior parenting and relationships editor. For more than 15 years, Rachel has put her training in mechanical engineering and applied mathematics to work by researching, testing and writing about parenting products. Plus, as a mom to three kids under 5, she has plenty of first-hand experience.
Marisa has covered all aspects of the world of parenting, from the postpartum years through the empty nests, since 2015, and she's pitched in with Good Housekeeping's toy coverage since 2018. She lives in New York City with her husband and daughter, who are both avid toy collectors. The 7-year-old, especially, is a master of Coup.
Shop more toys and gifts for kids
Looking for more great gifts for kids? Let the experts do all the hard work for you!
Top-tested items: See what toys, gifts and books ranked the very highest in our Lab tests with our Good Housekeeping Best Toy Awards, our Good Housekeeping Best Kids’ Book Awards and our Good Housekeeping Parenting Awards.
Tech for kids: Our lab experts are often asked for recommendations for digital devices for kids, and we've tested kids' phones, kids' smartwatches, kids' tablets and game consoles and to see which ones held up the best for families.
Great learning toys: While all toys can be helpful vehicles for supporting developmental growth, we love to spotlight notably exceptional educational Toys and STEM toys as well as ones that can support social-emotional growth, like those included in our lists of the best sensory toys, pop fidget toys, Montessori toys and autism toys.
Gifts for babies: Please the newest members on your gift list (and their parents) with these useful baby registry items, as well as gifts for babies, gifts for baby girls and gifts for baby boys. Of course, you might want to get something for new parents to help them through the hectic newborn stage.
Gifts for toddlers: The coolest new toys in this space pull double-duty, whether it's social-emotional learning combined with motor skills, or creative play combined with language, as you can see in our gift guides for gifts for 1-year-olds, gifts for 18-month-olds, gifts for 2-year-olds and gifts for all toddlers, as well as our stocking stuffers for toddlers.
Gifts for preschoolers: As they begin to explore the world around them on a deeper level, help them explore with STEM sets, art kits, creative toys and toys that inspire their imaginations. Find our favorites in our gifts for 3-year-olds (including gifts for 3-year-old boys and gifts for 3-year-old girls), gifts for 4-year-olds (including gifts for 4-year-old boys and gifts for 4-year-old girls) and gifts for 5-year-olds (including gifts for 5-year-old boys and gifts for 5-year-old girls).
Gifts for big kids: By these ages, they've developed their own interests. Help them dive deeper into the subjects that most interest them, from coding to art to cartooning to history and geography, with these gifts for 6-year-olds (including gifts for 6-year-old boys and gifts for 6-year-old girls), gifts for 7-year-olds (including gifts for 7-year-old boys and gifts for 7-year-old girls), gifts for 8-year-olds (including gifts for 8-year-old boys and gifts for 8-year-old girls), and gifts for 9-year-olds (including gifts for 9-year-old boys and gifts for 9-year-old girls). It's also fun to shop for some of our best-reviewed and top-selling stocking stuffers for kids.
Gifts for tweens: Sure, once they get old enough for an iPad or gaming console you might be at a loss of what to get them. We have you covered with engaging picks for gifts for 10-year-olds (including gifts for 10-year-old boys and gifts for 10-year-old girls), gifts for 11-year-olds (including gifts for 11-year-old boys and gifts for 11-year-old girls), and gifts for 12-year-olds (including gifts for 12-year-old boys and gifts for 12-year-old girls), or see what's trending with boys or tween girls as a whole.
Gifts for teens: We decode what's on the lists for this picky age group, from the hottest accessories to the most-wanted tech gifts, with gifts for 13-year-old boys, gifts for 13-year-old girls, gifts for 14-year-olds, gifts for 15-year-old boys, gifts for 15-year-old girls, gifts for 16-year-olds, gifts for teen girls, gifts for teen boys and even fun stocking stuffers for teens.
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