It’s good to be a geek

I never thought in terms of "bringing up geeks." But for much of my young life, I was a geek. Full disclosure: while other girls in junior high school had pictures of Leif Garrett in their lockers, I had pictures of Ronald Reagan.

It’s hard to get ahead socially in such a case, but so it was.

I blossomed a good bit in high school, I suppose, though I never ditched my adoration of Ronald Reagan.

But I don’t think my own parents ever gave a thought to whether I was a "geek" or "cool." In contrast I seem to regularly come across and read about parents who are desperate to have "cool" kids.

But here’s the big difference between the "cool" kids when I was young and the "cool" kids now, points out Marybeth Hicks in her new book, "Bringing up Geeks" (Penguin books): once, being "cool" typically came from being attractive, athletic, outgoing. Whatever one thinks about the value of such things, today is very different, for the "cool" kids now are too often defined by being jaded, cynical, indifferent, and world-wise at way too young an age.

Full disclosure again: I endorsed Hicks’ book with a cover blurb, and for good reason: she faces head-on a topic many parents are afraid to tackle — protecting a child’s childhood. And so Hicks’ turns "geek" into an acronym for "genuine, enthusiastic, empowered kids," and encourages parents to "protect your kids’ childhood in a grow-up-too-fast world."

Here’s the problem — too many parents don’t want to be the grownups. They don’t want to do the hard work of saying "no," or "not yet" or, for instance, "here’s why that movie is OK for an adult, but not for you." Instead they want to be "cool" parents who are their children’s "cool" friends.

Raising "geeks" doesn’t mean being naive parents and, yes, a "geek" can still be captain of the football team. "Bringing up geeks" means, more than anything, being moms and dads who are willing to work to protect our children’s childhoods.

Fortunately, for those who do want to do just that, Hicks offers an outline of how and why to parent against the culture. She says "genuine" kids pursue their passions and interests without gauging them against what the "popular" crowd thinks. They are "enthusiastic" in that they are engaged, interested and upbeat about the world around them, not always trying to effect a condescending, disinterested or "too cool for this" attitude. "Empowered" kids grow to care about issues and ideas, with a strongly developed sense of right and wrong.

Hicks outlines 10 rules for raising geeks like, "Raise a Team Player," "Raise a True Friend," "Raise a Principled Kid," and my favorite, "Raise a Kid Adults Like."

But while she gives the how-tos, more than anything throughout "Bringing up Geeks," Hicks implores parents to be . . . parents.

In my own house, as my oldest (of four) children enter the throes of the teen world, I have to keep reminding myself that I must care more about whether my kids like me when they are 30 than when they are 13. It’s not easy.

So on the one hand, when my kids tell me I’m "the meanest mom in the world" I say "no, I’m not, (our dear friend) Mrs. Carlson graduated ahead of me at Mean Mom School and did post graduate work there too — so I’m the second meanest mom in the world, but thank you very much for the compliment."

But on the other hand, there’s so much more at stake than such kidding around would convey. I hope to raise children who are excited about their world and finding their place in it, pursuing their passions, serving others, who are joyful and not jaded. Kids who have a strong character, and sense of right and wrong. Whose childhood innocence hasn’t been sold to the highest bidder in a consumerist economy.

I don’t get it all right by any measure, but I do agree with Hicks: if this means "bringing up geeks" — then that’s cool with me.


(Betsy Hart hosts the "It Takes a Parent" radio show on WYLL-AM 1160 in Chicago. Reach her through