Friday, September 9, 2011

Jessica Banks on 5 Ways to Be a Great Geek Grown-Up

Jessica Banks has been helping me keep the enthusiasm high and the participants excited for Speak Out with your Geek Out on Facebook. Today's article she talks about five ways to be a great, geek grown-up.

It's supposedly "The Age of the Geek," but truth be told, geeks have a pretty big inferiority complex. Speak Out with your Geek Out is about changing the tone, not just in the general environment, but among geeks ourselves, about ourselves.

We want to do this, if not for ourselves, then for all the up-and-coming geeks whom we'd love to save the years of bullying and shame, both internal and external. A big part of why I jumped feet first into this event is for my sons, who are surely geek fruit of the geek tree. Here are five ways I try to be the best geek parent I can be:

1) Use the word enthusiastically about yourself

I am proud to be a geek, and I say it all the time. I use the word to describe my favorite things and my favorite people. I geek out regularly about my favorite things, and when I do, I name it as such. When I feel a wave of enthusiastic fan ecstasy coming on, I warn my kids, "Hang on, I'm about to geek out here, guys!" And I encourage my kids to achieve a geekly level of enthusiasm and expertise in their interests.

I do all this with the goal that, when someone at school says, as they are very likely to do, "You're such a geek," they'll feel complimented rather than insulted, and thank that child. At worst, the other child will only be confused, and look for another target. At best, the other child will re-examine the definition of that word, and maybe even think twice about the value of the qualities that they associate with geekdom.

2) Show kids your favorite things

Geeks love to play tour guide for newcomers in their sandboxes, and kids make the very best playmates. Let your own memories of world-shaping geekly "first contacts" guide you, especially when you're mentoring gifted kids for whom grade-level advisories are stifling boundaries. Show kids your favorite movies and TV shows. Read kids your favorite books. Let kids play with your old toys. No, I'm not suggesting the heresy of breaking The Sacred Seal -- instead, all hail the glories that are your local public library, yard sales, and eBay.

This kind of sharing is the definition of a win-win: you get the perfect excuse to revisit old favorites you've maybe felt unjustified to embrace as an adult, and the kid in your life gets introduced to a classic by someone whose taste they trust. Sometimes you capture lightning in a bottle, and you create a brand-new generation of geek for that thing on the spot. And sometimes you and the kid laugh together, and the kid learns an alternate definition for the word "cheese." It's all good.

3) Trust the kid's taste

Every geek who was ever a geek child was asked by some adult, "Why do you waste so much time on that?" Even if some kids have more disposable income than they used to, it's still really hard for a kid to pursue an interest without adult support. Adults, even teenagers, forget the trials and tribulations that came before Internet shopping, driver's licenses, and debit cards -- for heaven's sake, don't you people remember having to mail in box tops for things?!. And let's face it: when you're not even sure what your developing body's going to dish out from day to day, it's hard to feel confident about your developing tastes in the face of judgmental grown-ups who roll their eyes every time you ask for a ride to the library. An adult geek ally is invaluable.

4) Learn the names for the kid's things

You may feel like you need an advanced degree and a passport, but get down on the ground and really try to understand kid geek subjects. I get so mad when I hear parents dismissively say, "He's playing with his dopey pokay-digi-yugi-whatever cards. The money he wastes on those things!" The inventors of the games and books that have made billions-with-a-B of dollars have created rich, detailed, immersive experiences that not only grab the loyalties of millions of children around the world, but a whole lot of adults too. It's not beneath your dignity to learn the names and have a real conversation about a kid's geekly pursuits. And, when that day comes, that kid will be a hell of a lot more likely to keep talking to you about everything else, too.

5) Don't throw out the packaging

After you've stood in line for all those cold, dark November hours to get the kid you love the toy or book or video game that s/he (and every other living creature under drinking age) wants more than oxygen, in the name of all that's holy, do what your own parents didn't AND BUY TWO OF THEM.

I'm only halfway kidding. This is mostly just shorthand for remembering all the things you swore to yourself, as a geek child, that you would never, ever inflict on another child, should you ever be given guardianship of one of those drooling monkeys. Learn the lessons your own geeky life has taught you, and pass them on with compassion rather than bitterness.

You don't have to be a parent to be a great geek role model for the next generation. Be the cool aunt or uncle, big brother or sister. Be the teacher every kid wants and every parent wants for their kid. Be the mentor at your local library or rec center who brings geekdom to the young masses. You could be the geek who rocks someone's little world.


  1. Corollary to #3: Accept it if the geekling you're mentoring isn't into something you love. Kid just doesn't like Dragonlance, or Star Wars, or college football, or whatever? Don't push them on it. Don't feel that you have to hide your own love of it, and maybe someday the young'un will come around, but if they don't, that's OK.

  2. Thanks for an excellent point! I'll be sure to add it in to my Word file of the document for future reference. It certainly makes #4 even more important.

    And it's even a potential dignity/diversity issue. Lots of parents would be delighted to encourage a budding Bill Gates or Joe Buck, but if it's your son's dream to be the next Tim Gunn, it's time to man up, learn your toile from your voile, and get squarely behind your kids' geeky enthusiasm.