Nerd Parenting: How To (Hopefully) Do It Right
By Karen Walsh
“You have to stop at weapons check before going in.” Most parents probably don’t expect to say this to their three year old. Those parents, obviously, aren’t raising tiny little cosplayer wannabes.
In a world where the physical, looks for girls and brawn for boys, is still considered preferable to brains, raising a little Nerdling requires constant vigilance and dedication. All Nerd cultures – gaming, comics, computers, or fandom – have an element of passionately choosing the brain over the brawn. When traditional modern day society recognizes the Nerd but still views it as a counterculture, how can we foster the future of ourselves?
The culture that considers itself Nerdy is probably one of the most welcoming to newcomers of all ages, but it most especially embraces the young. This sense of community is what makes bringing a small person to the hubs of culture easy and inviting, if you can find them. So, how do you start to raise a Nerdling?
- Expose him to all sorts of media and interests.
Music and television are the gateway for little kids. One of the first music videos Monster fell in love with was Team Unicorn’s “G33k and G@m3r Girls.” He started to learn names and ask questions. He saw smart, strong, beautiful women but also women not defined by their beauty. We moved him onto television and movie adaptations of comics and science fiction. For his third birthday, he chose a Harry Potter/Star Wars The Clone Wars theme. The other children did not know the characters, but he did. His exposure to these media fostered an interest. Viewing television and movies as an introduction to a culture instead of abhorred screen time, engaging him in the stories, and allowing him to explore these themes gave him the opportunity to learn about worlds he cannot yet read about at three. He started to become interested in comic books and sits to read them almost cover to cover. Popular culture, however, is only a small part of the process. Exposure to science and technology need to be included in the equation. Science museums and gadgets are just as important. Showing children how water flows, explaining (sometimes with the help of They Might Be Giants’ “Here Comes the Science”) the difference between solid/liquid/gas or that the sun is a miasma of plasma can get them interested in the foundations of the culture. Letting children play with technology gives them competence, in an increasingly technological world, with today’s “gadget” that may become tomorrow’s “can’t live without” tool. Parents viewing iPads or smartphones as tools instead of simply as toys (for adult or child) gives children an exposure to technology as a lifestyle not just a hobby.
- Be active in their Nerdification.
It’s not just about showing them popular culture but using it as a learning tool. Even at 3, when Monster asks whether Nick Fury is a “good guy or bad guy”, the best answer is that “he’s a good guy BUT…” and explain the moral ambiguity between his actions and his reasons. “Well, in this episode, he uses things that aren’t his. You don’t like it when someone uses your toys without asking, do you?” Watching Dr. Horrible’s Singalong Blog with a three year old means that you have to explain that the bad guy is a good guy and the good guy is kind of, well, a jerk. They need to start to process the idea that just because you have a label that the label doesn’t always mean anything. It’s your actions and intentions that mean something. This gives them the chance to make the connection between themselves and the media. It allows them to learn and not be bystanders.
- Cosplay, cosplay, cosplay.
Kids love dressing up and pretending. People encourage children, especially little boys, to dress as real life heroes – police officers, doctors, and firefighters. However, the perceived violence of superheroes means that schools and society assume that a little boy with a gun is going to become a serial killer. Once kids are interested, the next step is to engage their creativity. Being a nerd means being passionate not passive. The more we, as parents, engage children’s hearts and souls through play, the more they learn and the more they love what they learn. Engage in it with the children. I never loved Halloween or dressing up. I always liked just being myself. However, cosplay with my son at a recent convention was one of the most rewarding experiences. Kids model adult behavior. Showing children that we’re as creatively involved as they are allows them to see that growing up doesn’t mean losing that sense of adventure and imagination.
- Engage them in the Nerd Community from an early age.
The nerd community has long existed as an underground counterculture. About five months ago, we started frequenting a local comic book store. The owners embraced a tiny comic fan with open arms. We attended a local Con. Other young people and adult again embraced a small Nerdling with open arms. Trying to find a safe place for a child to share his excitement with others is difficult. Monster likes to wear costumes to the grocery store. However, when he explores this creative side publicly he receives mixed reviews. Some people find it adorable, and other look at him askance. Therefore, finding a place for him to share his imagination with others is one of the best parts of the Nerd Community. When children the adults around them share their interests, they feel more comfortable engaging in these interests.
Raising a Nerdling today may be easier than it was for our parents before us. However, society today still marginalizes many of our interests. In order for the Nerd Culture to continue to thrive, we who are parents or want to be parents or want to mentor a sibling or friend need to work hard to create The Nerd Culture: The Next Generation.