Nerd World Parenting

As a blogger my key goal is to support parents to be their best Selves in the service of all our kids—both as good for our collective world, but also as a way to re-frame and re-think parenting itself as a path to happiness akin to Zen or yoga.

I get feedback on the ideas I put forward in the form of comments, private emails, etc.  I also get a metric of the zeitgeist based on which posts get the most readers.  One thing that surprised me was that my post, “The case for nerds” ( is so far the far and away favorite post in terms of number of readers, having gotten twice as many readers at the second most popular post, (“What to say when kids say they hate themselves”:

Taken together, this suggests that a lot of parents are concerned about their kids being nerdy and unhappy, but particularly worried about nerdy kids.  “The case for nerds,” encourages parents to embrace being nerdy as potentially liberating as well as good parenting.  Yet, while I realize that even if we parents are mature enough to go ahead and fly our freak flags as nerds or whatever else we might think that we are, we tend to want our kids to be cool—not even cool really, just not the… well, nerd.

This is not because we parents are anti-nerd (or at least I hope not, as I am very highly pro-nerd), it’s that we tend to remember the painful aspects of childhood and want to protect our kids from them.  Being socially isolated, which we tend to associate with being weird, different or nerdy, is a painful situation for most humans who are, after all, social beings.

The point of today’s post is to invite us to consider the nerd as archetype.  Just as the classic archetypes might include hero, Shadow and anima/animus (search this blog for these terms if you aren’t clear on what they are, but would like to be), I might argue that the nerd is an archetype—plaid shirt, pocket protector, broken glasses patched with tape.  Just like Chaplin’s Little Tramp became an icon of the sweet marginalized outcast for another era, the truth was that Chaplin was, off camera, an enormously charming, agile, seductive and highly sophisticated person (in his early Vaudeville training he learned to do a flip holding a tea cup without spilling a drop). 

The “loser” is an archetype, one that is beloved at the same time as it is reviled (think Charlie Brown).  The key point about archetypes is that no matter whether we are talking about the hero or the arch villain, true identification with an archetype spells hubris (the mistake of mortals thinking they are gods, symbolized by Icarus flying too high and then perishing into the sea).  The theme of over-identifying with the hero and then crashing and burning is itself an archetypal pattern; Chaplin left America in the wake of a sex scandal, sports heroes end up throwing games or betraying not just their wives but their fans with sex and drugs.

As parents, we need to understand that no child, no matter how seemingly nerdy, truly is a nerd incarnate.  This can help us love the nerd in our children just as we love the nerd within ourselves, but also trust that there is a villain, a hero, a wise old man and a wise old woman, an eternal child and a trickster, to name a few, within each and every child.  Individuating is about coming into relationship with all the archetypal elements of ourselves.  

DON’T FEAR THE NERD!  Not in the mirror, not in your kid and not in your kids’ friends.  Good self-esteem depends on coming to possess a solid sense of self in the first place.  Trying to shape kids to be inauthentic (i.e. don’t play with dolls, or don’t play with trucks) makes them self-conscious and nervous.  What’s cool is being real and true to ourselves and our interests, whatever they may be from sports to comics.  What’s cooler still is to be kind.

Yes, kids can be cruel, but mostly because they learn this from insecure, and therefore cruel parents.  Not all cultures value aggression the way America has done so; there are cultures where being kind and empathic gets boys rated as likable and seen as leaders.  If we don’t like living in a cruel culture, we need to put our kids at ease, not toughen them up into Marlborough Man stereotypes.

We transmit a lot of information to our kids via our thoughts and our non-verbal cues.  Social giftedness lies on a continuum and kids who are not gifted in this realm (i.e. don’t make much eye contact, more interested in things than people) can still be engaged socially and, over time, their social relatedness will grow.  Further, as the brain develops it tends to compensate for things that came hard for us when we were little; trusting that there is a place in the group for all of us can help calm us down as parents.  The message to our kids that they are wonderful, that we are interested in who they are across a range of archetypes and invite them to be interested in themselves as well, helps kids develop joy in who they are rather than anxiety about it.

Yes, some kids need extra help in learning to socialize, just as some need help with reading or fine motor coordination.  But just as a late reader is not dumb, and a kid who struggles with poor coordination is not a klutz as a defining identity, even the seemingly nerdiest child is not, at the end of the day, a true nerd any more than the kid who scored a touchdown is actually a hero ready to step into his chariot and hoist the sun.

So, let’s dedicate today to honoring and appreciating the great archetypal nerd, and to becoming clearer about how no matter how nerdy we may feel that we personally are, or that our kids may appear to be, we are, in actuality, diverse and multifaceted human beings, each and every one of us rife with hero, child, crone and shape-shifter.  Others may have limited views of us and/or our children, but we can open our eyes, love the world and have a much better time of it in the bargain.  This benefits all our collective children.

Namaste, Bruce

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