By Sonali Morris
Trust us. Punt these presents so you don’t get hung up on the gift wall of shame.
Elementary or middle school graduates
Formerly fun toys: The days of DSi, Legos, Pokemon cards, and Bratz dolls are coming to a sad end for your tween. As one mother says, “They’re just not cool to like anymore.”
Clothing that you picked out: Don't be hurt, but that Hello Kitty shirt you think is so hip, so now, so cute? Um, that was so fifth grade. Since kids’ fashion changes by the nanosecond and pants are outgrown by the week, skip the sartorial gifts.
High school graduates
Teddy bears: After spending years purging plush puppies, cute kitties, and loveable llamas from kid bedrooms, neither parent nor child wants to see a stuffy comeback (especially those scary gigantic ones no one knows what to do with).
Yet another copy of Oh the Places You’ll Go!: Dr. Seuss’ message is moving, but many seniors say the sentiment is overused. Browse Amazon’s list for other recommended reads. Our favorites? The smart and spot-on Real World 101: A Survival Guide to Life After High School and for big yuks during the pre-college road trip, Graduation Mad Libs.
Class of 2011 clothes, mugs, and trinkets: Come freshman year, these once timely tokens will be tossed aside. No one wants to advertise that they’re the new kid on the quad.
Words of wisdom: Kids have spent their entire lives under house arrest. College is their chance to make their own decisions and eat cereal for dinner. The last thing they want is more unsolicited advice. Shelve the words-of-wisdom books — even if your grad could sorely use them.
Avoid these items at all costs — even (no, especially) if you found them at the Dollar Store.
Elementary, middle school, and high school graduates
Graduation troll: Avoid the impulse. Neither funny nor cute, it's an item devoid of all reason unless your child is a young Jimmy Fallon who might use a doll to launch a successful stand-up comedy career.
Hot Diggity Dogger: Maybe your child is the next Takeru Kobayashi? If not, skip the frank cooker. They'll want to eat in the cafeteria anyway.
Play-Doh cologne spray: Hasbro says it’s “meant for highly creative people, who seek a whimsical scent reminiscent of their childhood.” No self-respecting teen wants to smell like preschool.
The World’s Largest Gummy Bears: A really good idea only if your kid's got a hankering for a full set of dentures by age 25. On the plus side, could come in handy for finals.
Anything from SkyMall magazine: Enough said.
Now that you know what not to give, here are the gifts that'll do your grad proud. Sure, some are familiar, but it's because they’ve stood the test of time.Others , too, don't come cheap. But a child who’s logged more than 15,000 hours in a brick building deserves something more interesting than a monogrammed pillowcase. As for fifth and eighth graders, we suggest a smaller accolade that says, “Good going! Stay the course. You’re still a little young for a $500 gift.”
Elementary and middle school graduates
Enduring apparel: Kids won’t grow weary of spirit wear for their next school or sports jerseys for their favorite teams.
Cash or cards: A gift card to a favorite store, certificates for the local ice cream parlor, amusement park passes, spa vouchers, or movie tickets are all nice ways to reward achievement while managing a budget (and expectations).
High-tech toys: If you can find the one electronic gadget they don’t have, buy it before Aunt Edna does! For more affordable offerings, consider a stylish messenger bag to haul their tech wares or a cute and kitschy Mimobots — the world’s first character-based USB flash drive featuring the likes of Yoda and Batman.
High school graduates
A trip: Get a head start on turning Junior’s bedroom into your scrapbook sanctuary. Send him on a short trip to an exciting destination, while he's gone you can call the contractors and reconfigure his room.
Say, “Not cheesy!”: There are many mid-range digital cameras that won’t max out your budget. (Check out CNet for smart buys.) Even better, your present will solve one bad-gift dilemma for grads — filling 40 empty “Class of 2011” photo frames.
College threads: Apparel from their future alma mater makes the grade as a great gift. If you’re able, buy reversible gear so coeds can maximize time away from washers. On second thought, couple the clothes with a not-so-subtle hint: a roll of laundry quarters.
Gift cards: Go beyond Bed, Bath and Beyond. Clothing, music, grocery, gas, restaurant, and prepaid cards for your soon-to-be-independent (and perennially broke) teen are all worthy wallet fillers, too.
Greenbacks: Some think cash is tacky and thoughtless, but it’s still a million times better than a dress shirt. A wager: $100 if you find a single kid who says, “That’s so nice, but I’ve got enough money already.”