Geek culture no longer exists only outside the mainstream, as witnessed by the huge success of movie franchises such as Lord of the Rings, the X-Men series, the Marvel movie franchise, the hugely profitable Star Trek movie series reboot, HBO’s Game of Thrones adaptation, and the hotly anticipated Star Wars sequel. Add in the fact that the video game industry is now larger and more profitable than the Hollywood movie machine and that Comic Cons have exploded in numbers and popularity in cities across the world and, heck yes, we have a full-fledged geek-o-lution on our hands.
But for children growing up, the pressure to like what their friends like is still enormous. Kids still run the risk of being treated as outsiders if their interests are not the same as their peer group. So while pop culture embraces nerd culture, sometimes it’s still hard out here for a nerdy kid.
Before anyone gets his or her Wonder Woman Underoos in a twist, please note that I AM well aware of the separate definitions of “nerd” and “geek.” Nerds, according to Wil Wheaton and others, are people who may (or may not!) be social awkward, but possess a laser-like focus and love for particular interests. The glory of nerddom is not hiding your enthusiasms, no matter what they are. Wheaton notes that he uses the terms interchangeably, but other definitions insist that geeks have more technology or science-based enthusiasms (hence the “Geek Squad” at Best Buy, for example). Regardless, nerds and geeks love the outside-the-mainstream things and they love them wholeheartedly, so I’m using the terms interchangeably here, too.
I’m a self-identified geek who loves science fiction and fantasy literature, movies and TV shows. I get teary every darn time I see that new Star Wars trailer and Star Trek, particularly TNG, was one of the defining loves of my teen years. I read some comics and adore comic book movies. Additionally, my parents made sure I have a strong Anglophile component to my nerddom, as I grew up on Masterpiece Theatre and the Masterpiece “Mystery!” series, both of which aired on PBS as a rebroadcast from the BBC. This Anglophilia lead me lots of places, including to Shakespeare and Tolkien; did I mention I wrote my M.A. thesis on the Lord of the Rings? And don’t get me started on Harry Potter or Game of Thrones.
It is my dearest wish that my girls also embrace a geeky lifestyle as they grow. Why? Because I learned so much about how to be compassionate, functional person from the canon of the nerdiverse. Humility, grace, hard work, curiosity, leadership, artistic fearlessness and scientific inquiry: all these things are exemplified in the great works of geekdom. Additionally, as one of my brilliant geek girl friends notes, if you enthusiastically embrace something outside the mainstream, you free yourself from the pressure to fit it. This leads to an open-minded and curious approach to life, as you aren’t afraid to try new things because trying something new led to your great passion. What others think of you ceases to matter, but if you can get someone to listen for 5 minutes about your geeky passions you get to share in the joy of their discovery and create connections with people.
1. Have it on in the background
Friday night is movie night at my house. Eating in the living room while watching a movie is basically a sacred thing in my house. While we do watch kid-friendly fare, Dear Husband and I also throw in some of the geeky canon as they are age appropriate. So, yes, my girls have seen Star Wars (Ep IV-VI only) and we have a time table laid out for when to introduce Back to the Future, Lord of the Rings, Indiana Jones, and the many permutations of Star Trek.
Other good things to have on in the background at all times: National Public Radio (in general) the Science Friday show on NPR specifically, the Radio Lab podcast, the Star Talk podcast, and all the Reading Rainbow and Bill Nye the Science Guy episodes, which are now streaming on Netflix.
As a family we went to the Tampa Bay Comic Con this year and had a BLAST. My girls dressed up in super heroine shirts and tutus and we all had fun walking around to the Kids Zone, playing video game demos, and wandering the massive exhibitor hall and the artists’ alley. Plus, we heard Carrie Fisher speak (!!!). My chickies may not get why mommy and daddy were delighted to see cosplayers like Lady Lone Star and Barf, an amazing Galadriel, a spot-on Arya Stark, or why Mommy almost hugged a FANTASTIC young Army Peggy Carter, but they saw it. And like sponges, I know they absorbed it. When they are older and we watch Captain America together and then Marvel’s Agent Carter they will get it. And I will insist that they, too, know their worth.
3. Video Games with Daddy
I am not a gamer. Anything more advanced than Snood or Tetris is just too many buttons for me to learn and I want to go read a book. My husband, however, has been MMOG-ing since the beginning. I know video games have traditionally been a male-dominated pastime, but I also know the demographics on that are shifting. My oldest daughter has recently expressed interest in gaming, so she and Daddy now quest together sometimes. She’s actually pretty good! As with anything, we limit the screen time and insist on a balance of activities, but for now, I’m thrilled she’s comfortable learning and playing games. She follows the narrative and collaborates with her partners, and I think those skills will serve her well in the future.
I’m an English teacher, so you KNOW I had to go here, right? Read to your kids. Bring them to the library. Get them books instead of the latest whiz-bang toy. They may pick up on your passions (we already have the entire Anne of Green Gables series at my house thanks to a like-minded mommy friend…and I have high hopes) or they may find another series of books that blow their minds. Either way, reading helps create compassionate, inquisitive, and empathetic young people. This world needs as many of those as we can get.
5. Proud Alumna
What is college but a place where you find the geeks who love the geeky stuff you love and you all then try to find jobs geeking out about that stuff all day? I’m a proud alumna of the University of South Florida, and for the last few years I’ve been working there as an adjunct. My girls love visiting campus, but as they grow I want them to understand what college MEANS. I want to teach them not that they must go to college, but why they should want to go. I double-majored in art (photography) and English (literature) as an undergrad, and it was in those majors that I found my “tribe” and really settled into being comfortable loving what I love and being myself. USF’s amazing professors also opened up to me the history of those fields of study and pointed me toward the potential they held. Kids instinctively look up to adults for guidance, and if I show my kids examples of adults pursuing their passions via research and teaching it is my dearest hope they will be inspired to do the same, regardless of whether doing so is cool or popular. So if you want your kids to go to college, talk about college. Visit a few. Check out the websites to see what work is being done there. Often the best people to inspire your children are other young people.
Whether your brand of geeky is food, show tunes, D&D, fitness, nutrition or all of the above, I hope you share your passions with your children. Aside from inspiring them, perhaps they will inspire you to look at the world with fresh eyes. Cheers! Maybe I’ll see you at the next food truck rally or Comic Con!