February 15, 2011,
S.L. asks from Meridian, ID on February 05, 2011
Fending off Nerdiness
My son, who turned 7 this week, has what my husband calls a "high nerd potential." He's gifted, just skipped a grade (into 2nd) and I'm sure he doesn't talk like other kids. He regularly brings up topics to discuss with me and his dad that are way over his age-peers. For example, we discussed acids vs. bases the other day, he wants to know how batteries work, he talks about chemical formulas, etc. And last week, he made it into the top 10 of the 2nd grade spelling bee (so now he goes on to the 3rd grade spelling bee next week.) That was quite public, since they announced it the next day during morning announcements.
Half of his class is in the gifted program with him, because in his school, classes are created by ability. So he's in the top 2nd grade class. His teacher says he's a perfect fit, and he really does seem to fit in much better in 2nd grade than he did in 1st grade (since he had read the whole Chronicles of Narnia series, and they were learning to read).
It may seem petty, but I have been very diligent in watching the hemline of his pants. I make sure his socks don't show, and I try to buy him "cool" clothes. I also bought him silly bandz because they're the cool thing. His gifted program coordinator assured me that this kind of effort is actually greatly appreciated, since some kids in her program get teased a lot because they insist on wearing khakis and polo shirts (tucked in tight and buttoned all the way up) to school every day. So the fact that my kid goes in jeans and surfer shirts is, I think, a good thing. On the other hand, maybe I have no clue what's really cool in 2nd grade!
My son's behavior, though, is totally up to him. I cannot control his outrageously advanced vocabulary (he maxed out his test on an 11th grade level!) and the things he's interested in. In a perfect world, he would be allowed to soar, but in the real world, it's not cool to be "too smart."
Yesterday, our son had confided in Dad that someone had called him a nerd. He said that it was a girl from another class, and it was in the hall, so he just pretended he hadn't heard anything and kept walking. My husband told him that was a good way to handle it, but maybe next time, he could tell the kid "I don't like it when you call me that" or that he could go tell a teacher.
I don't really know what to tell my son, but I think my husband's suggestions would be the WORST thing to do! I think teaching him to roll his eyes and say, "whatever," would be way better than narking to the teacher. Way to cement himself as a nerd!
What do you think? What would you do? What would you tell your kid to do?
2 moms found this helpful
So What Happened?™
I want to point out that my son really doesn't care what he wears. He wants me to choose his outfits every day. I've tried since he was little, and he doesn't care! So I pay attention to styles. Because being a nerd is one thing, and dressing like one is another. Picked on because your clothes are to small is, to me, an avoidable trial.
I need to clarify about the Silly Bandz, too. He wanted them, but I'm not a very trendy person, so I didn't know that I wanted him to get into Silly Bandz. But because it was clear that cool kids have them, and because my son started wearing rubber bands as substitute Silly Bandz, I bought them. He wanted them. I don't push things on him except for when I know he'd be good at something, but he lacks the confidence. Then I give him a gentle push.
I like a lot of your responses, and I think, besides teaching him to act "above" the name-calling, I'll tell him about Bill Gates. And tell him to say, "Oh, like Bill Gates?" if someone calls him a nerd again.
I am also from the nerdy category, although not so much as some others. I tried to look cute and keep up somewhat with fashions. I"m not daring by any means. It took me like 3 years to get up the nerve to try the "layered look." I try to balance fashion and real life. I like to think that I'm realistic in my approach, because, like it or not, our world says how you look is important.
I'm a biologist and my husband is an enginerd (that's 'an engineering term) so it's not like we haven't had our own trials in this department. I think one of you hit it on the head that controlling my son's vocabulary isn't about trying to restrict his learning and growth, it's about being able to communicate with the people around you. If they don't understand what you say, you won't be communicating, and you come off as condescending, people will dislike you. I didn't realize it at the time, but I was adept at using different vocabularies in different situations. I still am. It's just part of growing up gifted.
Our very smart boys are comfortable being themselves in our home. We use big words, and they use big words, and they ask us all sorts of amazing questions. They are WONDERFUL, entertaining, amazing little people, and I enjoy them very much. Because he is my oldest son, I'm facing new parenting challenges. Some have to do with his giftedness, some don't. LIke someone mentioned, everyone gets teased about something. I was chatting with a friend of mine tonight who is not only immensely intelligent, but was born with several craniofacial deformities. She was teased relentlessly, and we came to the conclusion that navigating our way through life's trials is what has made us the wonderful, deep, understanding adults that we are.
M.A. answers from Orlando on February 06, 2011
Nerd is not a bad word. What's wrong with being a nerd? Be a proud nerd. Tell him next time someone calls him a nerd to tell them "Thanks" I appreciate it! :)
4 moms found this helpful
P.G. answers from Dallas on February 05, 2011
What Peg M. said. The important thing is NOT to "fend off" nerdiness - cause you can't. But you can teach him to be confident in his own skin and to be well rounded. If he's that accellerated,you may need to get him into a school that could meet his needs, and that may solve part of the issue re. standing out as a nerd. But kids will find a reason to tease - if it's not brains, it's something else. Being confident and comfortable with himself is the best thing to go for. Tattling for name calling isn't worth the problems it would cause. If they were physically harassing, etc., that would be different.
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D.S. answers from Houston on February 05, 2011
tell him bill gates is a nerd but he is the richest man in america :) he is going to be who he wants to be maybe slightly suggest a diffrent wardrobe but he probably wont wear it. I think telling the teacher will make it worse. he will learn to deal in his own time own way
2 moms found this helpful
L.R. answers from Washington DC on February 05, 2011
Think how he would feel if he read your post. He's smart enough he would understand every word. Wouldn't he interpret what you wrote as, "MOM doesn't think I'm cool"?
Why think in terms of "I cannot control his outrageously advanced vocabulary"? Why would you want to? Why worry about "Way to cement himself as a nerd!" Why say, "In the real world, it's not cool to be too smart?" Is that really a message to give a bright child -- that he should tamp down the vocabulary and the discussions about science etc. so he will fit in with the crowd? Will you still want him doing that in middle and high school -- going with the crowd and wearing what's popular and being sure he doesn't stand out?
Saying "I don't like it when you call me that" and walking away is a mature response; so was his own instinctive response of just walking away. It's not a tell-the-teacher offense, unless it escalates. But his own instinct was good. "Whatever" only eggs on the name-caller. Walking away denies the name-caller the satisfaction of a response.
He's going to get made fun of. All kids do. Kids like him especially do--by kids who aren't like him. But he's not alone; help him find his real friends, his peers who have advanced interests like his. You may soon find that among the kids in his class, his peers with whom he can have real conversations on his level, they'll soon be jokingly competing to see who can use the biggest words, who knows more about acids and bases, who can have the wildest science project, etc. They'll all be uncool together and they'll love it. I know. I have a fourth grade nerd with delightfully nerdy friends.
It will take some time before they can really learn not to care what other kids think of them; they're still so young, and at this age they want everyone to like them, and want to like everyone in return. And they'll get stung by remarks other kids make. My child still does too. But if parents teach them to walk away and be themselves, they eventually will learn that not everyone's opinion of them matters. Their teachers' opinions matter, and the opinions of their real friends, and most of all the opinions of their parents. But if their parents are worried they'll be labeled nerds, the kids will learn to worry about it too.
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T.N. answers from Albany on February 05, 2011
Blessed are the nerds, for they shall inherit the earth.
All three of my kids are geeks. Thank God for it!
Your son handled the nerd incident beautifully, IMO. Sounds healthy and well adjusted. Sounds like he's cool and SMART!
You can't have control over other people's kids, but you can 'bully-proof' your own. Sounds like he's well on his way.
Congratulations, and enjoy him!
9 moms found this helpful
E.A. answers from Erie on February 05, 2011
My kids are nerds and proud of it. They like sci-fi and computers, eat "weird" food at home and understand more about building things and computer games than playing sports. I say, tell him to embrace his nerdyness! He should tell people who call him that "thank you!" My oldewst son wears a fedora and tailored leather coat to school. On dress down days (our public schools have a dress code) he loves his pink polo shirt. He almost exclusively wears khakis. He has surrounded himself with other nerds in his honors classes, finding out who else thinks it's cool to be smart, and is a happy outgoing teen.
I once heard a kid on tv say this to someone who was bullying him about being a nerd: "Someday I will be grown up and better looking, but you will still be stupid enough to think I care what you think of me." I don't necessarily encourage that approach, but you get my drift.
9 moms found this helpful
P.M. answers from Portland on February 05, 2011
I agree with you that tattling to the teacher over this relatively harmless name-calling would be a mistake. On the other hand, teaching your son to roll his eyes would be teaching him to return the disrespect he received from a little girl. I don't see how that will enrich your son's social life – he could merely become part of an escalating "us vs. them" dynamic. It would be far healthier to teach him to smile and say "thank you!"
If we want our children to grow up in a kinder, more peaceful world, we would do well to teach them the tools that help them live kinder, more peaceful lives. As Ghandi taught, "BE the change you want to see in the world."
I wouldn't put too much stress on being "cool," particularly if it's like a mask of inauthenticity that you're teaching your son to put on. We are all different, yet we try so hard to meet some social "ideal" that shifts and changes from one decade to the next. People spend a lot on the appearance of "cool," but that doesn't make it real. What IS cool is being the best "me" that each of us is able to be. Trying to be someone else is a recipe for insecurity and unhappiness.
My son-in-law is pretty nerdy, in that he's really, really smart and doesn't worry much about fashion. He just chooses the clothing that serves him well and keeps him comfortable. His socks don't show, so I guess he's cool enough. He does well socially, and he is not overly involved with what people think of him. And I admire him tremendously – he's a man of integrity, good will, generosity, and humor. His little boy is getting some great role modeling.
My husband is pretty nerdy, and he's the best man I've ever known. I'm so proud to be seen with his geeky old self.
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P.W. answers from San Francisco on February 05, 2011
As the parent of a "nerd," I can tell you that it's NOT TRUE that it's "not cool to be a nerd." I think that's a stereotype.
However, you need to teach your son to be proud of who he is. His response should be, "Yup, I'm a nerd and proud of it." You need to tell him that's how he should respond and then let it go. Do not make a big deal out of it or he WILL think there is something wrong with being a nerd.
He absolutely should NOT tell a teacher. Come on! If he can't handle being called a nerd (a compliment, in my books), he might as well shrivel up in a little ball right now.
My son's friends, the "nerds" on the debate team, are the coolest, most interesting kids I've met. Their conversations are fascinating, unlike listening to most teens.
Dress him "cool" if you want -- it's nice for anyone to dress fashionably -- but teach him to be proud of his uniqueness. If he's not ashamed of it, the other kids won't pick on him.
7 moms found this helpful
A.H. answers from San Francisco on February 05, 2011
I would tell my son to say "thank you!" or "...and proud of it!" confidence can go a long way in a situation like this. Being a nerd IS cool and the older he gets more and more of his peers' jealousy will give way to awe and respect - provided, of course, that he remains a nice person and a humble person.
6 moms found this helpful
C.T. answers from Santa Fe on February 05, 2011
I think you should take the approach of telling him to be proud of being a nerd! Nerds rule the world! ;) I am a biologist and my husband is a physicist and we have many many scientist friends. In grad school we hung out mostly with the other physicist. Yes, they were nerdy in all they knew and what they like to discuss but not always. But most of the time they were very very cool and interesting people. Be proud of your awesome son! Do make sure as he gets older that he is good with social behaviors though...able to talk to all kinds of people without talking down to people, not standing too close, etc.
6 moms found this helpful
E.C. answers from San Francisco on February 05, 2011
I'm a proud mom to twin 9YO nerds and encourage them to follow their interests and take pride in their love of learning, and remind them that people who call other people names are often doing that because they're jealous. If someone called either of them a "nerd", they'd take it as a compliment :-).
And fortunately, in our techno-heavy world, you can easily remind your kid (and he can remind anyone who teases him about "nerdiness") that "nerds" are largely responsible for the information technology and computer animation industries, among other things. If you use a computer or a cell phone, watch a Pixar movie, or play Wii, you can thank the nerds for making it possible!
Also, you can encourage him to participate in things like Odyssey of the Mind, where he can use his skills with peers who are similarly bright and full of "nerd potential". http://www.odysseyofthemind.com/
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