Interesting metafilter thread on parenting a geek (or any kid)

This is a really interesting thread on parenting and talking with adolescents.  Recommended.  (I’m including a couple of excerpts here because I don’t want to lose this content if the original source goes away):

I’m a little worried about a pre-teen boy in my extended family. He is somewhat troubled. He has low self-esteem, and never wants to apply himself to anything whatsoever. Video games and TV are all he cares about. He has no friends at school… except for the boys who make him humiliate himself and laugh at him.He’s a second child with an older sister who is always the center of attention. The boy’s father has told me that he really can’t understand his son. I identify fairly strongly with the boy myself. Since he seems to look up to me, I thought it might be helpful to try having an earnest talk with him. I just don’t know how to go about it without sounding all preachy. I know I hated preachy adults when I was his age.

Can anyone suggest approaches I could use? My current plan is to simply talk about life and school for a while, ask him about how he’s doing with things, and then slowly try to sneak in some preachiness. I’m thinking of saying something like, “I hope I don’t sound like I’m lecturing you. I hate being lectured, and I’m sure you do too. These are just some things I wish I had known when I was your age…”

Some things I’d like to impress upon him:
Video games are not everything
You really should try to learn stuff in school
Your parents aren’t perfect, but are trying their best
You’re approaching some very difficult years, but it gets way better after this
School is going to be a popularity contest pretty soon, and here are some ideas on how to handle that
God is dead and we are all alone

Ok, not that last one. Anyway… Please, let me know if you have any suggestions for relating to a young man in a non-preachy way.


This response from a teen, FiestyFerret, is powerful insight.  Some good tips on how to speak to your teen and how to have a positive impact on their lives and how to get them off the computer (if that’s a goal):

Mmkay. I’m 13 (almost 14). If you started a sentence with most of those things, I’d prolly “think” I have you figured out right away cuz I’d tell myself “He understands TIME but not me and my friends and what we live.” (That might not be true, but it’s what I’d think.)

Mmkay. Here’s the deal. We like adults who DO stuff with us and open up the world to us. We don’t really like it when they criticize the world we live in. We live in it cuz people aren’t offering us anything better. We can’t drive to baseball games or hike alone in mountains or ride the bus alone to get to the beach. We can’t get jobs and “network”. If adults don’t help us, then we build our own life with what we have, which is video games, skateboarding, hanging out after school, getting on AIM and stuff like that. And the rules in those places are pretty real to us…including popularity. So (I mean this in a nice way) either come to us in our world or take us to places in yours where we are allowed and won’t get yelled at. Don’t just talk to us. Cuz after you’ve said all you’re going to say you’ll get in your car and drive back to your house and we’ll still be stuck at home with our video games and AIM.

Also, (no disrespect again, i promise) I personally would be offended if an adult told me that God is dead and we are alone. How are you planning on proving a negative? Even I know that it’s impossible to prove a negative, so saying something like that would only leave me feeling worse. I think you should leave those kinds of opinions to yourself and let him decide about things like that for himself. He might be dead in your life, but you can’t really tell the future for the kid’s life. I really think you should leave that alone.

Mmkay. About school: Learning stuff in school is important but when was the last time you were actually IN a middle school? My parents finally pulled me out of public school and let me go to a private school cuz our schools are so huge and institutionalized. At my other school you got good grades if you didn’t talk, didn’t think, could fill out worksheets well, didn’t make eye contact with anyone, had a #2 pencil so you could fill in bubbles, didn’t bother a teacher, didn’t mark in a book, didn’t draw attention to yourself, didn’t defend yourself against the kids who are always in trouble, didn’t mind waiting 25 minutes in line for lunch and could wolf it down in 3 so that you weren’t tardy, only walked on certain tiles in the hallway,didn’t use certain stairways to get to class, didn’t ask to use the restroom after lunch, didn’t try to go into the library before or after school. It was a joke. The 8th grade science teacher at our school called the smartest kid in every classs period “Wienie Boy” so that they wouldnt’ challenge him intellectually. Some of the PE coaches threw things, screamed and humiliated kids in the locker room. Yeah. Great. Give us schools where it’s cool to learn and we will. Give us a situation where all we do is try to stay alive and see what happens. My new school rox and it is none of the things I just mentioned. Classes are small and teachers will correct you if you DON’T challenge their ideas. So before you talk school with a kid, you should find out what’s REALLY going on there cuz it’s prolly not what you remembered it was.

Advice is good if it is coming from a reliable source (which you might be) but you have to see that we have to LIVE it. We usually know our parents are ok (unless they are the kind that aren’t…and I’ve seen some of those.) You don’t really have to prove it. But if you did, you could make them seem more human. When you adults tell us stories about when you were our age or if you tell us how you messed up or how you totally rocked a situation when you were our age, we get it. If you tell us how we should do it in our lives, we don’t. We honestly don’t believe that you understand what you are talking about. That’s not to be disrespectful, but it’s true.

Pre-teen as in 11 or 12? School is already a popularity contest. It has been since about 3rd or 4th grade. Some of us don’t care. Some of us do. Some of us just want to survive it. Nothing you can say or do will change our status. I think Popularity goes back to weather or not you have your own deal going on. I have a life and stuff I really care about and so even though really none of the kids I hang around with could care less and some prolly think it’s totally lame, I like my life and that makes me feel pretty good about stuff. I LIKE my life cuz adults opened up the world to me a long time ago and now I get to do cool stuff. I’m not stuck at home unless I want to be at home.

If you want to help him get over all that stuff about popularity, help him to do cool stuff that makes him feel good about himself. Enough of that kind of thing and usually popularity won’t matter too much cuz no one can take your life experience away even if you’re a dork.

That’s just my opinion. My opinion might not apply very well to EVERY kid, but it would work for most of the kids I hang around with. I hope this didn’t sound disrespectful or arrogant. I just don’t want you to make a big mistake. I can tell you care. He prolly can too. You just have to live it instead of talk it.

Oh and I just thought of this, my bro is a freshman at a communication arts magnet high school. His principal said that something like 39% of the new jobs that will be opening up when he graduates college will be linked in one way or another to the video game industry. I don’t game too much, but I can see that happening just cuz of how much my friends play. Also, my dad’s a doctor and he said that video games help some surgeons with their arthroscope (I dont’ know how to spell it..srry) skills. Like on knees and shoulders. So you can’t really just disregard them as part of our culture. sometimes they do become life.

I hope things work out good for you and especially for him. You sound kewl.

-Feisty Ferret

and his follow-on comment:

Oh, I meant to mention this: Lady Bonita says she’s a mom of boys. There must be some underground Mom book out there about ways to be tricky with your kids. I think my mom read it too cuz Lady Bonita said something that my mom did:

One time me and Josh (my bro) got my mom to cave in and tell us her “parent tricks” that she uses (she has a lot.) Like, she said that when we were little she used to put me in the high chair at McDonalds and tie my shoes together so I couldn’t try to climb out and go to the playroom thingy before I was done eating. *annoying* Stuff like that.

Well anywayz, she had two tricks she used to get us to talk and it’s how she got a really good sense about our lives and how we were handling teachers and kids and junk at school. She doesn’t usually have to use them anymore cuz as you can see, you can’t really shut me up now, but One trick she did ALL that time starting from when we were REALLY young is she would pick us up after school and say “Tell me a funny story from today.” I JUST found out like a week ago that this is how she was putting together which kids were which and the type of people i was dealing with all day. Of course I told her everything cuz I thought it was “funny.” She used that daily info from the car ride to hone in on “Problem” situations she could detect from my stories. THEN (trick #2) (GAH I remember her doing this and I had no idea she was tricking me) she’d hand me a slinky or some toy that you could manipulate in your hands, and start doing the dishes or something. Then out of the blue while I was sitting there minding my own business playing with the cool toy at the counter, she’d ask me questions about particular stuff at school. She says that when you put moveable stuff in the hands of boys, the toy works like truth serum (sorry spelling) cuz it somehow short circuits our mental defenses and lets us talk. Mmkay that’s just scary how grownups know stuff like that. haha. So yeah, Lady Bonita is right about that. Guys talk under the right circumstances.

– FeistyFerret

From his comment and the one by another teen on the site, our schools are clearly broken and we need to figure out how to fix them.  After reading the comments by these two kids, I’m feeling really lucky about the public school Geek is in, despite some challenges there.

Also, a book recommended by one poster sounds potentially worth checking out (Amazon link):

How to Talk So Teens Will Listen and Listen So Teens Will Talk by Adele Faber

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