Dear Readers: It's time again for Straight Talk's shopping list -- direct from the source. I'm always hoping Santa will "think outside the box" (literally) and scratch video games, computers and TVs for the bedroom, and anything else that can make a teen irritable, lazy, addicted and friendless. Even laptops and smart phones are suspect for the under-17 crowd. (Do they really need a laptop before college? The internet in their phone?) Many parents say it was the laptop that ruined family life -- their teens hardly came out of their rooms again. Consider expanding your family computer station instead.
Lean times must breed character. Many panelists talk about what they are giving to others and say they don't want anything. Nonetheless, young adults are currently America's poorest demographic, so please, if you are financially able, ask what the young adults in your life need and help them out.
Favorite games and books at the bottom of this column. Special thanks to Geoff for the best tech list anywhere!
Geoff, 26: Top electronics for the price:
* Camera: Kodak Easy Share (waterproof to 10 feet, $80)
* MP3 player: Sansa Clip (small, cheap, rugged)
* Laptops: Chrome Books, Windows 7 Laptops, Ultrabooks
* Tablet: iPad2 or Motorola's Xoom (be warned! young people prefer laptops.)
* Flash Drives (college student essential)
* E-Reader: $80 Kindle
* Trekking watch: Casio Pathfinder (barometer, compass, altimeter)
Katie, 18: I love just having my family come together. That's all I really want. The laptop for college I'm purchasing myself. For Grandma, I'm making a photo album with everyone's names. For others, I'm knitting scarves or baking.
Lennon, 25: Best gift: active listening and participation in someone's life.
Jessie, 19: Gift cards are great. Make them personal by shopping together. I'm taking my brother out for a hot drink and then shopping for him at a travel store.
Lara, 20: Please, money for textbooks!!
Gregg, 20: Socks and shirts!
Brie, 20: I'm not asking for gifts and am shopping simple. For Mom, I got a nice shirt; for roommates, mints and lip gloss.
Peter, 24: I love actual books, but an e-reader would be great for a college student.
Nate, 17: To spread the joy of Christmas, my school does an Advent Giving Tree where you give to an underprivileged child. I love baseball, so I picked a boy who wanted a baseball and mitt.
Akasha, 17: This year my family said "no shopping." I plan to give foot massages. My brothers always fix appliances, change heating filters, light bulbs, etc. Gifts of service are greatly appreciated.
Sarah, 20: To make a needy family's Christmas dream come true, my family participates in Adopt-A-Family. Personally, I appreciate books. When someone gives me their favorite book, it's an opportunity to learn more about them.
More from Lauren:
About those gift cards ... Simple, convenient, more personal than cash, and what kids want, right? Well, maybe. But did you know that anywhere from 10-30 percent of all gift cards are never redeemed? This number edges closer to 50 percent for cards given to adolescents. (In 2006, Home Depot reported $43 million in unredeemed cards sold before 2002.) Cash might be a better option, unless you think the recipient might use it to buy drugs or alcohol (not that uncommon). Check in with parents and see what kind of grades and activities the teen is involved in. Failing or poor marks in school often indicate drug or alcohol abuse, another addiction like video gaming, unhappiness or depression. In this case, buy an actual gift to show you care (many are listed above), and offer cash to help pay for tutoring or professional counseling. As Lennon says, the best gift is "active listening and participation in someone's life." -- Lauren