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Top 10 Best 18th Birthday Gifts

I enjoy giving advice about choosing the perfect gift for those special people in your life.

Gifts for an Eighteenth Birthday

Do you know somebody who'll be turning 18 this month? That's so cool! Turning 18 is an epic occasion for girls and boys. For almost all purposes—marriage, medical decisions, education, the legal system, tobacco—they have become an adult.

They have left high school or may be about to, and now they're figuring out their own direction. They may have flown the nest and taken off to the university to continue their education, or they may have taken their position in the workplace. Whichever road the teen chooses, simply turning 18 years old brings an entirely new range of opportunities and responsibilities.

The secret of gift giving, of course, is to find out where your birthday boy or girl is heading in life and what direction their inclinations are taking. That way, you can give something that will help in the new directions they are taking now as an almost total adult.

1. Give Them Experiences

What’s an experience gift? It’s not a thing but an experience: a trip, a tour, a visit. At this age, friends are tremendously important; your teen will enjoy an experience they can share with friends.

Dinner out. If you can be there with them, take them out to brunch or dinner. If they are far away, why not get them a gift certificate to a local restaurant of their choice? That way, they can be the big shot and entertain their friends.

Event Tickets. Most young adults love music; they enjoy going to concerts with friends when their favorite acts come to town. Definitely get enough tickets for your teen to bring his friends. The same for sporting events; depending on the teen, it might be a real high point to bring friends to a major league sports event (or to minor league baseball, which for the connoisseur is really a good value).

2. Give Them Mobility

If you have a few thousand dollars, you can get them a car! Otherwise, why not a prepaid transit card, gas card, driving lessons, or AAA road service? Or a plane, train, or bus ticket so they can go to another city to see their best friend who has moved.

3. Give Them Tools for School or Work

Nowadays, electronics are almost an all-purpose tool. Almost any kid, in college or not, will appreciate a laptop; laptops make many things possible, including email, movies, music, schoolwork, or working at home. You can get a useful laptop for under $500. But if your birthday child has any special requirements —for example, if she is a gamer—best let her pick the computer you pay for.

A tablet or smartphone can do many of the same things, including email and the internet. There are lots of awesome Android devices: e-readers, tablets and mp3 players, including Motorola, Sony, and Samsung. I own the Samsung Galaxy SII myself, and the more I use it, the more I love it. Both my son and daughter are in school, and I know that having the latest Android device helps in many ways, especially for quickly looking up coursework and communicating with their friends.

Despite what used to be the conventional wisdom, a child going away to college may not need a printer; excellent printers may be available through a network there.

If your child is looking for work, they might well appreciate some interview clothes or some tool of the trade (help with a certification or class they have to take, help to put together a portfolio, a trip to a conference or trade show, reference books, work shoes).

4. (Maybe) Give Housewarming Gifts

Your child may be moving to college or a new place to live, and you want to make them feel at home. You may also want to forestall them, raiding your own heirloom blankets and pots for their new collection. But maybe restrain yourself. It’s easy to go overboard buying things for the new nest. There’s no room in a dorm or on-campus apartment for most furniture, cooking, or electronic items. A long car or plane move will prune baggage down to the essentials. Bed, Bath & Beyond and other stores try to sell you all kinds of back-to-school appliances and conveniences that will probably end up on the curb or in the dumpster.

Then again, a gift certificate to a nearby IKEA will let your teen locate many cheap basic household items, even though the furniture there is short-lived and needs assembly. A tour with them of local thrift stores and yard sales is also fun and will yield some heirlooms-to-be.

5. Give Them Music

As I said, young adults love music. If he or she doesn’t have one, an iPod (tiny music player) is not cheap but will be used and appreciated for a long time. The iPod Nano is the deluxe version; the iPod shuffle, at about $60, is still great fun. iPods come in many colors and can be clipped to their clothing.

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If the teen already has an iPod, an iTunes gift card is useful so they can download new music (legally).

Don’t forget to include some earbuds or headphones with your music player to get the sound to their ear (and not yours, if they are still living with you). Skullcandy is a beloved brand and makes pocket-sized earbuds. They also make inexpensive over-the-ear headphones which get good reviews and shut out the boring sounds of reality.

Skullcandy Uprock Headphones

Skullcandy Uprock Headphones

6. Give Them a Camera

Throughout their childhood, they have been memorialized in photos and videos. Now they might want to do the same to the world at large, to memorialize friends, landscapes, and good times. Canon's inexpensive point-and-shoot cameras are surprisingly powerful and take great photos with little effort.

7. Give Them Something for Their Art or Hobby

Lessons are great for reminding those being shoehorned into responsible adulthood that there’s plenty of life and fun to be had between “work hard/study hard” and “party hard.” People of all ages have passions and curiosities that need to be developed. Depending on your teen’s particular interest, lessons might include drawing or painting, guitar, piano, drumming, scuba, climbing, dancing, photography, skateboarding, snowboarding, surfing, kayaking, or river running.

Or give them the tools for these pursuits: an amplifier for a guitar player, a book on painting or music performance, a drafting table. Consult the birthday girl or boy or their close relatives to find out what would help take their fun pursuit to the next level.

8. Give Them Gift Certificates

Ideally, these would be for places where people can buy tools to support their passions and inclinations. A gift certificate to somewhere like Target or Amazon is fine but impersonal. If your 18-year-old is lucky enough to have a passion, and you are lucky enough to live near a store that has tools specific to that passion, you can give her a gift certificate to that store: art supplies, music, craft supplies, and camping gear. Or give a gift certificate for sheer indulgence: to a grocery store for above-the-budget snacks, to an ice cream parlor, to a store that has clothes they like and you hate.

9. Give Cash

By 18, people know what it is that makes the world go round and have an idea of what to do with it. If you have more than they do and can spare it, they will appreciate it. No guarantee that they won’t spend it on vice or frivolity, but it will be appreciated.

10. Give Something That Keeps Them Close

Paradoxically, your teen might like something that reminds them that they will always be, in some sense, your child, to be cherished, fed, fussed over, and protected. Ideas include candy, a “care package” of cookies, a favorite cake, pie, or cheesecake with candles, or a framed picture of friends or family.

Guestbook & Comments

Dylan on July 05, 2018:

Hi Jack black my birthday was last Tuesday i turned eleven

Tory on February 17, 2018:

18th is coming and I’m thinking laptop so I can stop hogging the tv from my mom and so I can connect with my fellow Fandoms

Adriving on February 22, 2015:

Learn to drive and getting a car is expensive especially for the teenagers. Pay someone for the driving lessons and get them a car would definitely be a great gift for the 18th birthday.

Jessica Jones from Chicago, Illinois on December 08, 2014:

Baby? A man, 18 and up, always appreciates a good cup of coffee, right?

ericplotts on June 10, 2014:

I am really liking the layout of your lenses!

oakstreet on June 04, 2014:

Excellent gift ideas and I just want to say thank you for all your hard work. A like from me.

dawntreader3 on February 20, 2014:

If he's turning 18 and has always wanted to slam dunk, he might want a gift that will teach him how to do a correct vertical jump.

ktsnnet on September 01, 2013:

For gift, I prefer gadgets or smartphone :p

anonymous on April 22, 2013:

I was never 18, started full time work at 14 (part time after school & weekends). Lost contact with my school friends, couldn't socialise when working weekends, couldn't relate to them when doing my apprenticeship & working full time, we now live in a different social universe, blue collar worker ~ degreed professionals. I would love to have a photo album of shared moments with them when we were all friends. Would have made a great 18th birthday gift and even more precious now I'm 55.

ARTAD on March 02, 2013:

Nice gift ideas. I like iPod gift idea this will supplemented whit free iTunes codes gift card

uneasywriter lm on February 28, 2013:

These are better than the Uhaul boxes my parents got me for my 18th birthday. I did understand their message and humor as well!

EEWorkouts on October 30, 2012:

I got lotto tickets on my 18th. Great lens!

bwet on September 14, 2012:

i wish i could have all of them! LOL

JoshK47 on July 24, 2012:

Some very nice ideas here!

antoniow on June 17, 2012:

Great lens, nice ideas! Squidlike

Timsmansmall on April 15, 2012:

Nice gift ideas.

4FRNTski on January 03, 2012:

I remember my 18th birthday bash it was a blast! They need to change the drinking age back to 18 at least for beer, They can drink at age 18 in the UK and Europe.

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