Tuesday, May 28, 2013

6 Tips for Nerducating Your Children

Several of us on the Nerds of a Feather team have young kids, and in our own ways we're each doing our best to make sure our little ones understand important things like comic books being just as valid as any other type of book, and that Han shot first.
We display it proudly on our fridge. The drawing is of
Chuck Solo, the Angry Bird.
As my kids are now demanding that I call them "Ahsoka" and "Han," I've been giving a lot of thought to their introductions into new corners of the nerdiverse. Here are some tips I've come up with:

6. Respect Your Kids' Limits
It's a wonderful gift to be able to share something that was meaningful to you as a kid with your own kid when the time comes. Knowing when the time has actually come, though, depends on a kid's personality. I've come to realize that things I saw at a very young age and was ok with don't necessarily translate. One of my kids is extremely empathetic and sensitive, so I've had to hold off on a couple of things until I felt he would be able to process them emotionally. The other one, though, loves fantastic adventure stories and can set aside with much greater ease some of the human costs the characters experience, as long as the story moves. Like toilet training, kids all get there eventually. It's pretty awesome when the bad guys' faces melt off in Raiders of the Lost Ark, but it'll be just as awesome six months or a year from now if they're not ready for it yet. That said...

5. Trust Your Kids
They'd been playing with my lights and sounds Back to the Future Delorean for a while, so it was inevitable that they'd ask to see the movie. I had some reservations - Doc getting mowed down by machine gun-toting terrorists and profanity, mostly - but decided to roll the dice. So I had The Talk about bad words before we started the movie, and helped them get through Doc getting shot, which was tough on them at first. But as the movie went on, I watched them fall in love with it just like I did when I was almost their exact age. It was fantastic. I feel like as long as the kids feel safe (which is my job), and that there are rules that make sense (the movie's job), they can get through new stuff that's a little challenging to them. Dan Harmon wrote a great piece about Monster House where he talked a little about this.

4. Respect Your Kids' Tastes (However Awful)
I've tried like four times and just can't get my kids interested in Pinky and the Brain, much to my dismay. One of my friends is quite disappointed her daughter's favorite Avenger is Captain America. She finds Cap too vanilla, and has tried without success to interest her daughter in Iron Man or at least Thor, for Pete's sake. But no. My kids are suddenly into the Star Wars prequels, whose existence I deny. But they are their own little people, and as with so many things in life, we must let them make some mistakes for themselves. We can only teach them and hope they make wise decisions. And it can work - my kids have rewarded my trust by creating their own chant every time Jar Jar comes onscreen: "WE DON'T LIKE YOU, JAR JAR BINKS!"

3. Understand Now That They Will Break Your Toys
A great money-saving tip for families is to just hand over all your old toys to your own kids. Do you know how much a Star Wars action figure costs at a Target in LA these days? Like $12! It is utter madness. When my son got into fighting bad guys in all their many forms, he became very interested in the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and their array of weapons. I just so happened to have Leonardo, Michaelangelo, and Donatello from when I was a kid, complete with weapons, and gladly presented them to my boy, feeling the warm glow of the circle of life radiating all around us. Five minutes later, Donatello's bo staff, which had survived so many battles in the 1980s, was in two pieces. "Sorry, Daddy. His staff broke." I don't know why it broke - whether he did something to it that was a bad idea or whether 30-year-old plastic is just continually disintegrating - and you won't know, either. But it's going to happen. And that's cool. We have fought our fights with them, and we should be grown-up enough to make our peace with their possible demise. At least, that's what I keep telling myself.

2. Don't Forget About a Franchise's Back Catalogue
When my more-sensitive child got interested in Batman, I got worried. Or, since I'm a parent, maybe the more accurate phrase should be "I continued worrying, but now about something new." The thought of him watching Harvey Dent hold a gun to a little boy's head for what seems like 19 hours in The Dark Knight and the years of therapy bills I would immediately have to start paying as a result of exposing my young son to this scene and others in Christopher Nolan's trilogy gave me a momentary, silent panic-attack. But that's only because I was too focused on the present, when so many franchises are being reborn in some type of "gritty" iteration. There's also Batman the Animated Series, I remembered, and even the old Adam West/Burt Ward campfest I loved as a kid. We have now watched the 1966 movie more times than I can count, and I learned that 1) Caesar Romero actually had a mustache the whole time he played the Joker because he refused to shave it off, and 2) hearing little kids saying "Holy Polaris, Batman!" is awesome. Even though "gritty" is the new black, it wasn't always that way, and there are almost always ways to introduce our little scions to characters we love in ways that are age-appropriate, no matter how young. I mean, we actually have a picture book where The Incredible Hulk rescues a cat from a tree and joins the family for a picnic we read to the kids as infants! Which brings us to...

1. Remember What We're Really Doing Here
It's important to remember this is really all about one thing: love. We love something, it gets us excited and strikes sparks to those secret areas in our hearts that are lined with kindling, and we want to share that love with our kids, whom we also love. And whether it's comic books, movies, video games, or fantastic novels and stories, the common denominator is that it gives us an opportunity to spend time with our little ones, and that's the thing that's going to mean the most in the long run, to us and to them. It also reinforces that no matter how weird their tastes may eventually be, no matter how odd their visions and dreams, there will always be other voices with which they can commune, and those who will love them.