Geek raising a non-geek

My son, Jules, is 3. It’s the age where he very much gets interested and excited about things. He was an astronaut (“on a rocketship to the moon”) for Halloween, and loves looking at the moon, and playing with toy space shuttles and rocketships. He likes racecars, airplanes, robots, and castles.

In talking to other parents, or observing their children, you often seen kids who are kind of obsessive cataloguers and identifiers. Who know how to tell different airplanes, or dinosaurs, or heavy machinery apart. Who are, in other words, proto-geeks.

My son, however, translates his passion differently. What he does is develop just enough understanding of a subject so that he can insert himself into a narrative with it. He’s less interested in knowing the different types of rocketships than he is telling a story of those rocketships flying around, ideally with Jules at the helm. When Jules reads books, or plays with his toys, he’s always inserting himself into it–“Jules is driving that car,” “Jules is flying that airplane,” “Jules is a bad guy in the castle.” (I love that at the age of 3 he’s realized it’s more fun to play the villain than the hero.)

Thing is, when I was a kid, I was fairly far along the geek spectrum. I didn’t play with action figures — I wouldn’t have known what to do with them. I was an early reader, and had a thing for numbers, so when I was a 3, 4, 5, I was reading books; I was playing with my mom’s LED calculator, adding, subtracting, multiplying, and dividing, just to see what happened; I was watching baseball and rattling off facts and figures. The first toys I really enjoyed were electronic — Mattel Football and Simon.

In the last 10-20 years, there seems to have been a swell of resources for parents on being geek-supportive. Do we now need resources for us geeks raising non-geek children?

Raising Children in the Age of the Smartphone

Last week, NPR’s Science Friday host Ira Flatow spoke with social scientist Sherry Turkle, occasioned by the release of her book, Alone Together: Why We Expect More from Technology and Less from Each Other.

Part of their conversation addressed parents’ inability to control themselves around technology, and children feeling like their competing with iPhones and laptops for the parents’ attention. As a father who plays Words With Friends at the playground, and who jokes that if my son wants me to pay attention, he needs to be more interesting than my iPhone, I became a bit uncomfortable listening to this conversation.

But then I wondered, “Haven’t children always competed for their parents’ attention?” The conversation suggested that before smartphones, we had a magical time where parents wholly devoted their attention to their children. If I didn’t have a smartphone, I’d be bringing books to the playground. Thinking back to my childhood, there was always multitasking — conversations with others, cooking, watching television, etc. In families with lots of children, there’s competition between them. Or children having to compete with their parents’ work and chore schedules. I realized children have always fought for their parents’ attention, and it’s unreasonable for people to feel that if you’re not 100% committed to your child all the time, you’re somehow being less of a parent.

Now, I think there are some very real problems with technology and child-rearing (we’ve had to closely monitor Jules’ iPad use because he started to throw fits when we limited his access to it). But we need to start from a baseline of reasonable expectations for parents’ engagement.

Toddler Playgrounds and Dog Parks – Surprisingly Similar

Stacy updates the family about our son’s development with an occasionally updated blog. In the most recent post, she realized a striking similarity between toddler playgrounds (new for her) and dog parks (where she’s been going for years).

1. Everyone is there because walks around the block just aren’t enough stimulation and exercise.
2. In general, you get to know the kids’ names long before you get to know the parents’ – if you ever do.
3. There are cliques of parents who are local regulars, and who aren’t enthusiastic about chatting with parents from Other Neighborhoods.
4. On a weekday, more than half of those playing are there with “professional handlers” while their parents are at work.
5. Some of those playing are food-motivated and have good recall if you’re holding a treat. (this is not Jules)
6. Others are ball-obsessed. (this is Jules)
7. It’s time to go when your companion just wants to lay down in the sand.
8. A good run around the park means a big drink of water before heading home for a nap.