Shop Smart: Gift Ideas and Tips for Every Age and Stage

Matching kids' gifts to their ages and stages eases them into the worlds of technology and media at a manageable pace -- plus, it cuts down on returns. By Caroline Knorr
Shop Smart: Gift Ideas and Tips for Every Age and Stage

A kid's age and interests are pretty reliable criteria for choosing presents. An eight-year-old who likes to build? Legos. A three-year-old obsessed with princesses? Elsa doll. (See our 2014 Holiday Gift Guide for more than 100 media picks for kids.)

Unfortunately, it's not always so obvious what's age-appropriate when you're selecting gifts of media, entertainment, and technology. Plenty of brands -- including Lego and Disney Princess -- offer products for a wide range of ages. Some are geared toward kids much younger than the ones you're buying for, and some are targeted to kids much older.

Consider the movie Frozen, which is a perfect DVD to give to 5-year-olds. But the many games and apps it's spawned, including Frozen Free Fall, are more appropriate for slightly older kids. And the game version of How to Train Your Dragon 2 is geared for 10-year-olds, whereas the How to Train Your Dragon 2 DVD would be a fine gift for a 7-year-old.

Every child, of course, is different. But these general guidelines and age-based gift recommendations may help you pick a winner.

Kids under 6

Where they are: Acquiring basic literacy skills; still afraid of the dark, loud noises, and strangers; loving humor -- especially slapstick; not able to distinguish between fantasy and reality; not understanding that the intent of commercials is to sell something.
Look for: Media with positive role models that show characters of all shapes, sizes, colors, and genders doing important work. Also, anything that reinforces math and reading, and stories that have historical lessons.
Avoid: Too much commercialism and violent or scary content.
Try: Boy Games with Positive Role Models, Great Games and Websites for Can-Do Girls.

Kids age 7-8

Where they are: Learning to type; beginning to play team sports and socialize in groups; still very literal; able to make up their own minds.
Look for: Media that teaches skills, shares experiences of similar or different people, or stimulates curiosity in the sciences, the arts, or history.
Avoid: Shows that have a lot of "edgy" humor, such as insults and put-downs.
Try: Learning Apps, Games, and Websites

Kids age 9-10

Where they are: Becoming more body-conscious; looking to older kids to "age up"; more susceptible to peer pressure; able to follow several storylines at once.
Look for: Skill-building media and anything that allows kids to learn about a different time or place.
Avoid: First-person shooters, overly sexualized content.
Try: Creativity Apps, Graphic Novels that Teach History

Kids age 11-12

Where they are: Preadolescence! Secondary sex characteristics developing; moody, independent, breaking away from parents; able to understand abstract ideas. Peer relations and group dynamics very important.
Look for: Anything that shows a diversity of experience in cultures and time periods.
Avoid: Media with realistic violent/frightening scenarios (kidnapping, for example).
Try: Cultural Appreciation Apps, Games, and Websites

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About Caroline Knorr

As Common Sense Media's parenting editor, Caroline helps parents make sense of what’s going on in their kids' media lives. From games to cell phones to movies and more, if you're wondering "what’s the right age for…?"... Read more

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