Ten Christmas gifts teenagers can give that cost next to nothing. (And we’re not talking homemade candles and tea cozies.)

"Gifted Hero" by JD Hancock, Flicker.com

My kids (a teen and a pre-teen) are not what you’d call crafty. They have no patience with popsicle sticks, duct tape, or glue dots. We no longer discuss the grades they received in art, or the confused looks elicited by their pinewood derby entries (“Are you sure you didn’t hurt yourself making this, dear?”). So homemade Christmas presents are not exactly a feature of our Christmas season. On the other hand, my kids, like many young people, are seriously broke this year. Here are some alternative gift ideas we came up with that take advantage of their unique, adolescent um…skills.

  1. Make a mix CD, or a personalized playlist for someone. Personally I’d love some work-out music, but I don’t have time to search for songs. So my teenager is making me a playlist this year. He says he’ll include most of my kind of music. Even so, I’ll probably get more Skrillex than Susan Boyle, but I’m keeping an open mind.
  2.  Give a technology lesson. Adults are always wisecracking about how their kids know more about technology than we do, so why not tap into their wired brains and get them to teach us something.  Maybe Grandma would like to start a Facebook page. Maybe Dad would like to edit movies or do photo special effects but he just doesn’t have the time to learn how. Maybe Mom wants to learn to play Madden. Spending an hour or four showing some poor, deprived adult is a gift that just keeps on giving, because maybe we’ll stop making the lame jokes about our kids knowing more about technology than we do. And maybe we’ll understand the technology well enough to help our kids make wise decisions for using it.
  3. Bake something with your family and then give it to someone who could use some holiday cheer. This is a three-pointer. The first point comes in the time spent with family. The second comes when you give the baked goodies away. The third comes when you don’t expect anything in return.
  4. Give a free seminar in something. Whether your teen is a varsity tennis player, a model UN delegate, a bass player who does killer riffs, a ComedySportz star, or just muddling through calculus, he or she can probably teach younger kids something. This idea is (sort of) based on Boy Scout merit badge days where older scouts help younger ones finish their achievements. Plug in to your local parish youth group or religious ed office–there are always kids somewhere who could use help. You might want to group kids with different talents to share, or go informal with an hour or two of free tutoring or sports coaching. Everybody wins with this one. Teenagers can build self-confidence, and younger kids get some positive role models.
  5. Put that new driver’s license or permit to good use. Does your teenager need some driving practice? Give him a chance to hone those driving skills and help others by arranging for him to make some gift deliveries, or give someone who needs it a ride to the shopping mall or church. Of course, you’ll need to accompany your son or daughter if they’re still permit holders, but then, you’re giving an important gift, too—your time.
  6. Detail someone’s car. Or help them dig it out of the snow. Or change the oil. If your son or daughter is into cars, this could be the perfect gift for an elderly neighbor, or anyone who could use a little extra vehicular activity.
  7. Help someone with Christmas decorations. Again, maybe there’s an elderly neighbor, or some new parents who just don’t have the time or energy to make things festive this year.
  8. Babysit for free. Sure, most kids earn a little holiday cash for this, but would it kill them to do this as a gift? Maybe you know a single mom who could use some help watching the kids while she works overtime. Or a family who’s going away for the holidays and needs someone to feed the cat.  And the real gift is the reminder that we don’t always have to get a reward just for being kind.
  9. Read to someone. Your local library, school, or senior center may have resources, or teens can simply read to a younger sibling or relative.
  10.  Make a Mass or prayer card. Maybe your teen knows someone who’s sick, in trouble, or recently experienced a death in the family. Whatever the intention, teens can offer Masses or prayers for friends or family, and record it in a card or online greeting. Because really, isn’t praying for someone the best gift of all?

God bless!

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