Every so often, I like to check in on what "the kids" are into these days. As a (reluctant) adult with an interest in video games, my interests occasionally line up with those of "the kids", and I get to see how quickly their attention can move from one game or toy to the next.
The last time I checked, which was probably just under a year ago, kids *loved* the game Among Us, and Minecraft was making a comeback thanks to a collection of popular Minecraft YouTubers.
Realising that's really all I knew about what kids like in the technology-infused year of 2021, I decided to conduct a bit of field research.
Kids like video games, right?
My friend who works in childcare was my first port of call. Even though she is frequently surrounded by children, she still struggled to define what they might want for a gift this year.
After deliberating over the possibility that her knowledge might be outdated already, my friend identified several games that are currently popular among school-age children.
Among Us is still doing well, and its popularity might be boosted thanks to its move to Xbox One and Xbox Series X in December (just in time for Christmas! Coincidence? I think not).
The kids who visit my friend's daycare might just be especially macabre, but it seems like a couple of PG-13 rated horror games are popular right now: the Five Nights at Freddy's franchise and Siren Head.
She also figured that long-running Nintendo franchises like Pokémon, which had me hooked as a kid (and sometimes as an adult), are still a safe bet for gaming gifts.
Let's get an answer from the source: an actual child.
After shaking my friend down for her knowledge, I decided to move my interrogation on to an actual child.
Lucas just turned seven, and his hobbies are nebulous and span many categories, including: drawing, hockey, basketball, and earnestly copying quotes and ideas from things he's seen that day.
While visiting Lucas on his birthday, I asked what kids his age might want for Christmas this year. He initially seemed confused - probably because he was already surrounded by birthday presents and couldn't imagine ever desiring something again - before answering that kids want "a robot".
When asked to elaborate, he detailed that kids this year would like "a robot named Ava who locks and unlocks doors". I wasn't sure if I could reliably use this testimony in an article, especially after being informed by his parents that he had just watched a Netflix show featuring a knockoff version of the Amazon Alexa with considerably more free will and emotions.
Yes, kids like video games.
After some reminders from his parents, Lucas recalled that kids his age are still into the online party game Among Us (which means I am officially In With The Kids).
He also mentioned Roblox and Minecraft, which are both games that allow practically unrestrained creativity, providing the building blocks for kids to make their own fun.
But I know a kid who hates video games…
In a time when many children have been forcibly imprisoned in their homes due to a raging virus, games and other forms of media have been popular pastimes and would make for good Christmas gifts.
But maybe the kid in your life isn't technology-obsessed and would like something a little more tangible than a PlayStation Store gift card.
Lucas, for example, just got a new electric scooter. Our conversation also took place after a gruelling household-wide battle with toy laser guns, complete with me hiding in a closet and controlling my breath like a trained sniper, waiting to ambush him with a surprise shootout.
Traditional toys like bikes, scooters, and toy weapons in many different forms (water guns, Nerf guns, laser guns, fake swords and crossbows) are still an exhilarating gift for a child to receive.
The kid I know also hates moving around…
Anything that gets a kid moving and can be played with alongside others is usually a hit, unless you're dealing with a serious introvert, like me as an eight-year-old.
If the kid in your life is more of a withdrawn, creative type, you might want to nurture their creativity with cool new art supplies or a musical instrument. Torture the ears of everyone in a 15-mile radius by handing a child their first recorder!
Things like rubber band bracelet looms or microwaveable fusing beads (like Hama or Perler) are always popular, alongside Lego and other building blocks. With Lego steadily assimilating and block-ifying every popular franchise from Mario to Star Wars, you can probably find a Lego playset to suit any kid (Lego is not paying me for this, I swear).
I want something trendy for this kid.
If you want your kid keeping on top of the trends, several publications and toystores have compiled lists of the most popular toys this year.
Click here for Hello magazine's list of the 80 best toys for Christmas in 2021, which surprised me by still including Monopoly as a top Christmas gift. Back in the early 2000s, I once received three Monopoly sets for Christmas - from different people, of course. Sometimes gifts can be too trendy.
I wish a wish list service like Things To Get Me had existed back then - maybe I could have avoided duplicate gifts and experienced more than one board game as a child (this is a bit of an exaggeration; I also played Cluedo religiously).
You should also browse the 2021 Toy Awards, which ranks the best toys each year in different categories.
I still can't decide! I am spending way too much time on this!
If you're still stuck in gift purgatory, switching between online shopping tabs and wondering what the child in your life would like best, why not ask them?
Better yet, persuade the kid's guardians to help them create a free online wish list on Things To Get Me, which is easily shareable and accessible from social media. That way, both you and every one of the kid's distant relatives are released from gift purgatory.
Plus, the kid doesn't have to receive three Monopoly boards because they're a "safe" gift, and they can instead get what they actually want… which might still be three Monopoly boards, but at least it was their choice!
Check out our Christmas wish list maker here, and take the guesswork out of gift-giving this year.