High school graduation season has arrived, leaving parents caught between “my baby is all grown up” and “hey, now I can have my own office.”

It also has them asking the age-old question: What do I get my kid for a graduation gift?

The answer depends on whom you ask.

For moms and dads, the gift trend appears to follow practical, affordable and portable. For the graduates, the gift trend appears to be an irreverent hybrid of adventure and independence.

Yokosuka’s Nile C. Kinnick High School senior Elizabeth Duncan thinks the perfect gift would be a trip to China.

“My family has traveled around the Far East extensively since we moved here,” said Duncan. “We’ve been to Singapore, Malaysia, South Korea and the DMZ (de-militarized zone), but I think that China would top all of that.”

Duncan’s dad, Dale, a Yokosuka Middle School teacher, is considering options that are more useful, but also not without a touch of humor.

“I think a year’s supply of Starbucks coffee for all those (soon-to-be) late nights in college would be the perfect gift,” said Dale. “Either that, or a calling card so she doesn’t have to call (from the U.S. to Japan) collect.”

Elizabeth isn’t alone in dreaming of smiling faces and exotic places.

“I think the perfect gift would be a trip to the (Hawaiian) islands with my friends,” said Britton Brown, laughing with a group of friends. “You know, for one last hurrah!”

Sitting next to Brown was his friend Rynzo Abernathy, who at first seemed disappointed that his friend beat him to the idea, but he recovered quickly. Not to be outdone, Abernathy added to the travel idea by broadening its scope and adding a missing detail. “Even better, a trip around the world with my friends. The idea is to get to travel without the parental units.”

The final member of the trio, Harvey Gonzales, also wanted to travel, but he had a more specific location in mind.

“I want to go on vacation to the Bahamas. After high school, you just want to chill out,” Gonzales said.

While the number one gift cited was a dream vacation to an exotic place, Justine Mendoza said she’ll go anywhere. “I just want to explore the world.”

Lynne Singer has staked her claim in the independence school of thought. She also thought a vacation would be great, but first she wants to move out of her parents’ house.

“I’m an independent kind of person,” said Singer. “First I want my own place, and then I want a vacation to somewhere like Guam.”

A lot of seniors mentioned independence. And for many, there was one gift they felt would help them achieve it.

“A car,” Stephanie Francisco said without hesitation. “That way I can explore my new surroundings while I am at school.”

Jessica Horsefield explained that for her, the decision was a measured one based on projected long-term expenses.

“I was told that I could either have money, or have my car insurance paid for during the duration of my time at Auburn University,” Horsefield said. “I decided that the car insurance would probably cost more than any amount of cash I would have received, so I went with that.”

Horsefield’s mother, Marilyn, echoed Jessica’s assessment and added another, yet-to-be-resolved consideration.

“We have a car stored in Alabama for Jessica. The only thing now is,” Marilyn said with a slight laugh, “she needs to find someone to give her money for gas!”

While most of the gifts were of a materialistic nature, one parent’s answer seemed to touch on the overarching hope of all parents.

“You know, the child has everything already,” said Lizbeth Alfaro. “I just hope that they (graduates) have direction in life, and they go out and do something.”

While the question of “what did you get for graduation?” will have to wait another month or so, Elizabeth Duncan’s dream of visiting China might be closer than she realizes. Her father, Dale, conceded that he is currently working out the details for a possible family vacation to China this summer.

(Elizabeth, cross your fingers.)

Novel idea: Buy ’em a book

A graduation gift option that fits in a backpack and costs less than $20 might be worth more than all the “techno- whizbang” toys combined: arming your children with the nuts and bolts of financial literacy.

One such gift idea is the “High School Money Book” by Don Silver. Don is the author of 10 books including “Baby Boomer Retirement” and “The Generation Y Money Book,” in addition to being an educational consultant for “The Wall Street Journal Classroom Edition Teacher Guide” and a columnist who has written regularly for and Microsoft’s MoneyInsider. Moreover, Don is the father of a high school student.

“My goal in writing this book was to give enough money- smarts to teens, in just 153 pages, so they wouldn’t look back in 20, 30 or 40 years and say, ‘If I’d only known then what I know now,’” wrote Silver in an e-mail response to Stars and Stripes.

The “High School Money Book,” which is broken up into 101 bite-size topics so teens can digest it at their own pace, has received national acclaim since its release.

The Savvy Consumer columnist for the Fort Worth Star-Telegram said, “My eldest son didn’t put it down, devouring the book as if he were reading one of his thick fantasy tomes like Lord of the Rings.”

“Teens can be happier and more self-sufficient if they master money matters now rather than correct money mistakes later,” Silver said. “With this book, they can learn how to make important decisions about preparing for college, shopping, using credit, making a budget, working, keeping financial records and making money grow by saving and investing.”

Other books for graduates include:

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