It’s OK to be a nerd |

It’s OK to be a nerd

Twelve-year-old Ben and I were in the kitchen making dinner together when he piped up and asked, “Mom, what exactly is a nerd?”

Now, certainly “nerd” is a term he’s heard for many years and its meaning, as we all know, can be either rudely implied or a simple term of description depending on who’s doing the talking.

“For the most part,” I ventured my own rose-colored answer, “a nerd is usually someone who isn’t that interested in being cool; someone who likes to read a lot and usually has a high intellect; someone who isn’t into the latest fashions or trends and doesn’t care about being in the popular crowd.”

At this point my son’s eyes grew wide, his face broke into a huge grin and he said with a surprising amount of glee, “Oh, my gosh! I am such a nerd!”

Hey, it’s all in your presentation. I could have said nerds are oddballs who don’t know how to socialize because they spend all their time with their noses in books and wear high-water pants and horn-rimmed glasses. I could have said nerds are the least popular kids in school whom everyone shuns and no one picks for their team in gym class. I could have said, with disdain in my voice, that nerds like chemistry and math (can you even imagine?).

But that would have implied I dislike those characteristics. And, honestly, I rather enjoy raising kids who aren’t cool by everyone else’s standards.

If cool is wearing Abercrombie and texting until 2 a.m., count us out. If cool is watching “The OC” and buying into every media-generated fad and pop culture frenzy, no thanks. If “all the cool kids will be at the party,” my antenna goes up ” not to mention my hackles.

In a culture where kids aren’t just “blossoming” but hitting “full bloom” in their tween years, I’m OK with slowing the force of nature a bit. It’s perfectly all right to be a late bloomer, and if it harms their social life a bit (did I even have a social life at 14?), well at least it keeps me worry-free, enjoying some family time and in bed at a reasonable hour.

Here’s what the “nerds” look like in our house. There’s the kid who signs up for physics camp (with some trepidation, I must admit) and winds up saying it was “the best week ever!” It’s also the kid who bemoans the fact that he’s read all the good books on our shelves and just can’t sleep without a great read before bed. There is also the one who opts for a weekend of camping with his family over attending a huge blowout birthday party for a classmate he barely knows. The daughter who politely declines a slumber party knowing the girls will be up until 4 a.m. and, most likely, a cat fight will break out (they’re 10!). It’s the boy who reads National Geographic and the Sunday comics with equal fervor. The teenager who happily sits and converses with adults rather than sulking alone when there’s no one his age to talk to.

To be fair, it takes a lot of effort to raise nerds. Curtailing an otherwise overactive social life takes time, energy, and involvement from both parents. But isn’t that the gig I signed up for? Admittedly, we all get tired and in our weak moments cave and buy the Hannah Montana T-shirt and matching shorts outfit. Or is that just me? But protecting our kids from too much, and certainly from having it all too soon, is a job that’s well worth the long hours.

A couple of days after Ben’s revelation that he was a nerd and proud of it, I happened to pick up a new book by Marybeth Hicks, aptly-titled “Bringing Up Geeks.” In it she asserts that raising kids to be kids, not to be cool, helps children gain confidence, enthusiasm, a love of learning, and the maturity to value family and friends and make healthy moral decisions. Geeks are the new cool.

Ben will be so proud.

Charla Belinski’s column appears every other Sunday in the Glenwood Springs Post Independent. She can totally relate to Marybeth Hicks’ new book, “Bringing Up Geeks,” and thinks you will, too. Contact Charla at

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