My Easy Go-To Birthday Gift for Middle Schoolers

published Jun 1, 2022
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I think I can safely say most of us are all too familiar with that harried Target stop on the way to a birthday party to pick up a present. Your kid insists on accompanying you (which is fine, because they know what Olivia or Jaden wants), making it a tricky errand to cram into the week between soccer practice and math homework. So it gets pushed to the 20 minutes before the party starts. 

But when we moved several years ago, the Target was on the other side of town. It rarely made sense to drive the extra 30 minute round trip, plus the time negotiating with my kid over the gift and still make it back to be on time to the party that was a few blocks away from our house. Gift cards were an easy option, but I didn’t want to have to pre-purchase a bunch of them from Target. And printing one off from Amazon on my way out the door seemed a little impersonal.

So here’s what I started doing instead:

An Easy Birthday Gift for Tweens and Teens

We’re lucky enough to have a locally owned theater less than a mile from our house, so it’s never too far out of the way to make a quick stop no matter where the party is located. That’s how I landed on movie theater gift cards as my go-to gift for tweens and teens.

When my kids were younger, I was always shocked at how much a family trip to check out the Pixar summer blockbuster set our family of four back. I figured a movie theater gift card could either help soften that cost for the whole family, or just give a kid a chance to go bananas at the concession stand. This strategy really paid off as my kids got older. Who even knows what to get kids after they graduate elementary school?! My kids started insisting they get their friend an expensive video game or something similarly out of budget, so a movie gift card tucked into a theater popcorn bag became my default.

Movies are one of those activities that really grows with kids. A family event when they’re little becomes one of the first solo things they can go off and do on their own in their tween and early teen years. With a clear start and end time, parents know where their kids are the whole time and when exactly to pick them up. Gifting a movie theater gift card to a 13-year old isn’t just about the cash value, but giving them two hours of freedom from their parents. This is especially true for many kids who’ve spent the majority of the last two years at home with them.

Giving a movie theater gift card to a 13-year-old isn’t just about the cash value, but giving them two hours of freedom from their parents.

Movies are also really personal, and can be really impactful at an age where kids are exploring new emotions and relationships. I hit this age at the Jennifer Lopez/Reese Witherspoon/Drew Barrymore rom-com era. (Alternatively known as the pinnacle of cinema, otherwise known as the release of the 1999 classic The Mummy.) But I saw just as many “kid” movies like Shrek, Lilo and Stitch, and the Emperor’s New Groove. It’s a defined space to both explore and find comfort with new themes – whether or not to lift the armrest when you just happen to sit next to your crush when the whole group meets up together, for example, or just an opportunity for a highly critical post-movie discussion over Frappacinnos to discuss the many differences between the Harry Potter books and movies. 

At this stage of parenting, I’m totally ok skipping the movies I’m not remotely interested in seeing. My kid can share laughs with friends at dialogue only 14-year olds would find funny. He’ll share all of the jokes with me in the minivan on the way home.