15 Cultural Gifts for the Precocious Teen in Your Life


Is there a teen in your life who you want to arm with gifts that will help him or her survive being a teen? Sure, kids these days are more Internet-savvy than ever, so the likelihood that you can serve as the cool aunt/uncle/cousin/older sibling who introduces someone to their favorite _______ has never been lower. But the holidays are for good-faith efforts, so here are some suggestions of books, movies, and albums today’s teens might be into, but aren’t yet. Worst-case scenario, you’ll give your teen the gift of feeling like they have better taste than you did at their age.

Wild at Heart

Is the teen in your life as into Twin Peaks as the rest of the Netflix generation? Great, give them the gift of David Lynch’s tale of romance, road trips, and red lipstick. Makes for a fantastic double feature with Lynch classic/suburban-angst fueler Blue Velvet. Also serves as a poignant reminder that even Nic Cage was once a teen.

Supa Dupa Fly, Missy Elliott

Because ’90s lady rap is both essential and ever-so-slightly before contemporary teens’ time. In case Nicki, Azealia, and company haven’t already pointed them in the right direction, there’s no better place to start than the album that gave the world the garbage bag suit (and Abbi Jacobson’s perfect homage to it).

Hardcore, by Lil Kim

The exact same reasoning as the last pick, but it would feel wrong not to include Lil Kim.

How to Build a Girl, by Caitlin Moran

A working-class British girl who bears a strong resemblance to Moran herself embarks on a quest to reinvent herself and break into music writing. Inspirational YA for the kids who want to make it big in the big city, with a hefty dose of wisdom from a woman who’s come out on the other side.

Adam, by Ariel Schrag

A very different kind of coming-of-age novel from How to Build a Girl, Adam also follows a teenager just trying to figure it out into the city. But instead of London, it’s New York, and sheltered Adam is in for a very different journey than Johanna Morgan. Sex, gender identity, sexuality, and a time capsule of feminism in the mid-aughts: all topics of interest to the precocious teen of 2014.

Somewhere (dir. Sofia Coppola)

An under-appreciated gem from cinema’s foremost Honorary Eternal Precocious Teen. So much ennui! And it pairs nicely with the next pick.

Nowhere (dir. Gregg Araki)

The concluding installment of Gregg Araki’s Teenage Apocalypse Trilogy, described by Araki himself as “a Beverly Hills, 90210 episode on acid.” No further justification necessary.

The Essential Ellen Willis, edited by Nona Willis Aronowitz

There are few better role models out there than Willis, the New Yorker‘s first-ever pop music critic, who quit the magazine when William Shawn told her he’d never have published her Rolling Stone piece on a San Francisco rape trial. The Essential Ellen Willis gathers Willis’ thoughts on ever-relevant issues from being a fan of misogynist music to intersectional feminism, and sets an example for how to navigate them with intelligence and empathy.

My So-Called Life: The Complete Series

In the pantheon of dearly departed and/or tragically brief teen TV, nothing stands out quite like My So-Called Life. Even if she hadn’t been played by the future Carrie Mathison, Angela Chase would retain her appeal as one of the most fully realized, three-dimensional teenage girls on the small screen.

Daria: The Complete Animated Series

… Not that two-dimensional characters don’t have their place, as Daria proves. Sarcastic, cynical, and jaded, Daria Morgendorffer may not have the healthiest outlook on life, but she and Jane Lane see high school for the pointless bullshit that it is, and for that they deserve to be passed down from one generation of teens to the next.

The Kick Inside, by Kate Bush

If Lorde is any indication, teens ❤ other teens making weird pop. Bush released her debut album at 19, including “Wuthering Heights,” the first self-written #1 single by a woman in the UK. Teen-girl singers who write their own material — they’re the best!

White Teeth, by Zadie Smith

For the motivation — Smith was barely out of her teens when she wrote her debut novel as a senior at Cambridge — and for the reminder to try your best to empathize with your elders. Smith’s ability to write from the perspective of a 45-year-old male war veteran at the age of 21 gives hope that generation gaps might not be insurmountable after all.

Rocket Science (dir. Jeffrey Blitz)

The drama and intrigue of high school debate have never been fictionalized so well. Anna Kendrick plays the teen heartbreaker, Reece Thompson the stuttering novice struggling with rage, jealousy, and singing speeches to “Battle Hymn of the Republic.” You know, typical teen stuff.

Rushmore (dir. Wes Anderson)

A story about a precocious teen from the current patron saint of precocious teens everywhere, Wes Anderson. The precocious teen in your life has almost definitely already seen it, but they’ll nonetheless appreciate a hard copy for rewatching purposes.

Franny and Zooey, by JD Salinger

To prove that Salinger is so much more than Catcher, aka the favorite book of angsty bros who don’t read. Existential crises, sprawling New York apartments, and arguments about God are involved, as is a parent who may not understand her precocious teens, but loves them (and makes them chicken soup) anyway.