To Parents with Nerdy Kids: Four Things You Need to Know
Dear Parents of Nerdy Kids,
What I’m about to write to you, is what I wish I had been able to write to my family as a kid. This is not a letter to bash, or be mean, but hopefully to shed some light on how I felt, and possibly how your kid might feel being considered a nerd. I’m writing this with the perspective that you as parents want the best for your child as I think my mother wanted for me, but perhaps you may not “get” or understand them all the time, and they may not even know how to explain to you how or why they are nerdy. Hopefully, this letter will give you some relief in understanding the awesome kid you have.
First, some background so you know where I’m coming from. I was a first born, which meant that I didn’t have a lot of children to relate to. I related much better with adults. My parents never spoke baby talk to me which meant I had a different vocabulary than most kids my age and I wasn’t put in daycare. I was home schooled, and what little social interaction I got was when I went to church, and naturally because I didn’t have a lot of common ground with the kids there I got picked on and in the end I didn’t socialize with them very much. Once again I was more likely to keep to myself or make friends with the adults in the room. I was eventually put into a public high school where I had much the same issues with my peers as I did at church.
Around the age of sixteen when most girls are talking about boys and nail polish, I had glasses, and braces, and I didn’t know how to dress, but worst of all…..I was a Star Wars fan….I mean, I painted my room a dark blue, I put stars on my ceiling, and furniture, I had action figures from the movies, I had the books, I played the soundtracks, I watched the movies whenever I got a chance, I even had a book with the entire script to A New Hope, and I’ll even admit to writing fan fiction about it *cringe*. Perhaps love is not strong enough of a word…Obsessed would be more accurate. Unfortunately for you, and really good for me, I don’t have any photos of this currently in my possession to post on here or I would…maybe.
My poor mother didn’t get it. I’m sure she worried about me. She probably wondered if I would ever get married, move out, get a job and be “normal” for whatever that word is worth. She rolled her eyes when I rambled on about my latest chapter that I wrote, or the new Star Wars book I was reading, and honestly I don’t fault her for that, because she wasn’t a nerd and it must have been really hard to understand and relate to a kid like that at times. If I could go back to that time these are some of the things I’d tell her:
1.) Being a “nerd” is not really a bad thing: Some of the best minds, and most creative people are nerdy, and more often than not I’ve found that nerdy people tend to be extremely good at being friends. Let’s start with that. Friends. That was one thing I think that really really worried my mom. I didn’t have a group of girls I hung out with. I was quiet, hard to relate to, and I found more often than not the girls that I thought were my friend often made fun of me behind my back. However, if you got me around people who were equally passionate about the things I was passionate about, we’d talk forever! The problem is, nerds are picked on, and criticized. We don’t wear that we are a nerd on our sleeve like a jock might wear tight shirts or a cheerleader might be a bubbly fountain of charisma. We are quiet by nature and stick to more intellectually stimulating things and that’s where we find our friends. So my first request to you as parents would be to find what really interests your child and go with it. If they love sci-fi writing, get them books and let them write. If they love to draw let them draw. If they are computer nerds please let them do their thing, allow them to make friends of their own kind, and get to know their friends even if they too are nerds. I ask that you consider this: If Leonardo DaVinci’s parents had made him do what everyone else of his time was doing, would he have become the amazing artist that he’s now known to be? If J.R.R. Tolkien had been discouraged to write fantasy would we have such a wonderful story as The Hobbit or Lord of the Rings? and if Charles Babbage had been picked on and not supported in his love for math would we have the computers we can’t live without now? Maybe, but maybe not. Your child might be on the cusp of being one of those amazing people, please understand that being a nerd is not really a bad thing. Without nerds, a lot of the things we take for granted might not be here.
2.) Nerds are like a puzzle or a mystery: If you have a girl and she’s really into fashion or you have a boy and he’s into sports, that easy to relate to because that’s the stereotypical norm. However, what if you have a daughter who loves Harry Potter, or you have a son who can’t get enough of Star Trek, you’re going to have to dig a bit deeper to understand what is really making them tick. Like I stated above, I loved Star Wars and there was a reason for that, looking back I don’t even know if I was aware of it, and because I wasn’t aware of the really deep reason I loved Star Wars I couldn’t really explain it to my mom. I liked Star Wars because it was a story of how good triumphs over evil, which wasn’t always how the world I grew up in worked. It was about a teenager, who was isolated and stuck on a desert planet and a little weird (which was not too far from my reality) who was able to become someone respectable, and loved and special and those were things I didn’t always feel at that time in my life. The point is, you might have to look below the surface of your kid’s interests to really find what makes them tick and see how it relates to their lives and what they are going through. If they are really into Harry Potter, do they feel out of place, and the idea of being some how special comforts them? If they are into the Hobbit, is it the idea that someone small can do great things in the face of great adversity, like the nerd who stands up to a bully or deals with a troubled home life. If it’s Star Trek, is it the idea of a future where they are free to explore, or the more deep thoughts on ethics and philosophy that the story brings up? When in doubt, just try asking. Honestly, if your kid is passionate about something they’ll talk your ear off about it ( I know I did and my mom didn’t even ask). But they’ll tell you what they love about a story, and they’ll probably be really happy that they have someone who is actually interested in what they are interested in and will listen to what they have to say.
3.) When to Worry: There is a documentary I watched not too long ago called “Monster Camp” It’s about a group of LARPers which is fine if that’s what you’re into, but the thing that I found extremely troubling was how little they enjoyed real life. Some of these young adults hadn’t completed high school in favor of playing video games for hours on end. There were parents who were so involved in playing video games and LARPing that their kids complained that they weren’t getting enough attention. There was one very interesting guy who said that “It becomes an addiction when it begins to hurt you and the people around you.” but then he goes on to talk about how his daughter said he wasn’t spending enough time with her, so he decided that he was going to get her a computer so she could play games with him….Which really isn’t addressing the issue which was that he wasn’t in her life. I to this day enjoy playing video games. It’s nice to step out of the world that we are bound to and have responsibilities that need attention and go into a world where you can play and have fun. I think even parents can relate to that much of gaming. However, when their grades start to drop, when they start missing school or work, and stay immersed in this world that’s when it’s time to be concerned. It’s really the difference of having a beer at a party and being an alcoholic who can’t cope in the real world unless they are drunk. Many of the kids in this documentary had some really tough things they were dealing with whether it was a troubled family life, moving constantly and having very little time to make lasting friendships, or just being bullied and having a low self-esteem. Those were the things that needed addressing. It wasn’t about the game so much as something a bit deeper. If you feel that your child is using the game to escape during a really troubling time, try to solve that troubling issue. Taking them away from the fantasy world they’ve created might not solve anything. A kid who has a troubled family life is still going to be a kids with a troubled family life whether the games are there or not.
4.) They might grow out of it, but it’s still okay if they don’t: Please understand that what your kid might be at 16 probably won’t be who they are when they are middle aged. At the age of sixteen I was obsessed with Star Wars, and yet now I don’t really care too much for it.
*Do I still write fanfics?
No, but I am a writer. While I enjoy writing fiction and blogs, I think writing fan fiction allowed me to practice and gain confidence in knowing that I could write 250 pages on one particular subject…even if that subject sucked. I have also gone through great lengths to bury all traces of that fanfic…if you are really interested in finding it here‘s an item it might be buried with.
*Do I still have my collectables?
For the most part no, they went away sometime during my college years. All that is left from that time of my life is this mug which has the Imperial emblem on it, which basically tells you which side of the war I would have been on had I been around a long long time ago in a galaxy far far away. Other than that, I have moved on to painting video game themed pots and collecting other nerdy things…like Heroscape figurines, and World of Warcraft stuff.
*What about the music and videos?
From time to time I still listen to the soundtrack, but I appreciate classical music now because it always seems to get my mind thinking on a story that could go along with it, and every now and then I’ll take the weekend to watch the Star Wars Trilogy straight through.
*Did I ever get married and lead a “normal” life?
Yes. I no longer have braces but a great set of straight teeth. I wear glasses from time to time, but they don’t look as bad for some reason, and I figured out how to dress like an average person. I got married to my high school sweetheart who was also considered nerdy. He currently works for one of the best tech companies to work for here in Massachusetts and is a huge supporter of the free software movement. I am also employed at a fantastic tech company where I work closely with the operations department and support department and deal with the scheduling of computer environments for maintenance. My husband and I live in a home in a nice part of town, we pay our taxes, we have two cats, we might one day have kids of our own, etc. But we still celebrate our nerdiness from time to time. We are both avid gamers, we throw LAN parties and Heroscape parties. We enjoy being nerds because in the end, that’s what makes us happy…and isn’t that the goal for all of us.
So in closing, I really hope this has soothed some fears you might have of your socially awkward, nerdy child. They are special in a good way. They are thinkers, and innovators, and world changers and if you support them, they will thank you. At best you raise a child who makes it into the history books, at worst you raise a child who is happy because they have supportive parents.