Teaching Your Teen to Be Cool Cuts Down on Teasing

Janelle Harris

Geek, nerdMy friend’s daughter. Bless her little heart. She’s a pretty girl with smarts like she’s been here a lot longer than 13 years. You know, one of those bright, shiny youth you can laugh with and then realize: I almost forgot I was talking to a kid. But as soon as someone her age shows up, all bets are off because she turns into a ... well, I’m just gonna go ahead and say it. The girl is a geek.

There’s no reason that child should be hitting folk and running away to play an impromptu game of hide-and-seek. Making bunny ears in pictures. Tapping your shoulder, then pointing to someone beside her.

Barring a facial expression that’s probably similar to a Texas Chainsaw victim, I’ve said nada about her nerdesque behavior. I mean, who am I to call some poor teenager out on the carpet for being socially inadequate? But the other day, said friend wondered aloud if Girl Child is popular in school. My silence spoke volumes, I’m sure. 

To be fair, kids are by nature bands of little nerds until they’re well into middle school. Pretty much all of ‘em. The fun part of being an adult is we get to sit back and watch them think they’re cool. One time in the fourth grade, Skylar came home and casually told me that one of her classmates, a boy she seemed to be particularly put out with, was a nerd.

I had to drop a bomb on her. “Uhhh newsflash, my dear,” I said. “You’re all nerds. The whole lot of you.” And that’s OK. Part of the beautiful innocence of being a kid means you shouldn’t have to worry about being hip or popular. You should just concern yourself with getting in as much cartoon-watching, Barbie role playing, and rough-and-tumble wrestling as possible. Your biggest concern, next to anything school-related of course, should be ensuring that your mom brought home enough Pop-Tarts or Fruit Roll-ups to get you through a week of after-school snacking. Even homework doesn’t start to get really kick-ass until roundabout sixth or seventh grade.

As far as I can tell, puberty is what starts separating the hipsters from the rest of the crowd. I mean, there’s always the boy with the speech impediment or the girl with the head gear who by default can’t be cool because they’ve got something that clearly makes them a target for merciless peer ridicule. I guess now we’d call that bullying. Back when I was a chunky chick with glasses, braces, and a penchant for school (hey, don’t hate me because I liked to learn), it was just a fact of life.

But now parents are a lot more hip and with it than they were when I was a kid morphing into a reasonably stylish and surprisingly popular teenager. (OK, even I admit that my usage of the terms “hip” and “with it” called my whole cool factor into question. But I swear in real life, I am cool. At least a little bit.) I’m pretty positive it’s been to Tween Queen’s benefit that I’m so much more Forever 21 and H&M than I am Ann Taylor Loft and Macy’s women’s department or that I’m a Kanye West and Bruno Mars fan just like she is. Since I’m up on the same kind of stuff she’s into, I can kind of inform her style, like an at-home tastemaker.

We sure have a lot more in common than my mama and I did. She was blaring old school Earth, Wind & Fire and Marvin Gaye around the house; I was drowning it out with Public Enemy and New Edition on my Walkman. Her attitude about shopping was function over fashion. You went because you needed something, not because you wanted to see what was new for the season. If them sneakers I had from three years ago still looked good, they’d do me just fine.

She, like all responsible parents, was focused on the important stuff like my grades and general well-being. But I gotta tell ya: it would’ve saved me from some teasing back in the day if she would’ve balanced that out with just a smidge more interest in helping me be more socially acceptable with kids my age.

Maybe I’m wrong. Maybe that’s petty, frivolous stuff that doesn’t even warrant a mother’s attention. You tell me.

If you can save your kids from the teen angst and peer ridicule of being labeled a nerd,
should you step in and help them or is that something they should just learn on their own?

Image via Mr. Juninho/Flickr

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