When asked what advice he would give parents wanting to raise young scientists, famed astrophysicist and confirmed Nerd God Neil DeGrasse Tyson simply replied:
“Get the hell out of their way!’
Tyson, never one to mince words, has been on a mission to elevate the importance of his and every other field of science while also inviting anyone who shares a similar passion into the fold. He’s worked tirelessly to educate and inspire kids on the wonders of the world and universe around us. Through books, TV shows, podcasts, articles and interviews, he has preached the importance of passing knowledge on to the next generation of Nerds hoping to both save our planet and explore more of the universe. So, when someone of his stature, talent, and intellect gives us a clue about how to raise a successful Nerd, we all should listen.
At Raising Nerd™, we recognize kids have an endless capacity for curiosity and we know it’s critical for us to give them the freedom to exercise it. This is the basic key to Nerding: unleashing curiosity. As parents, we should be first in line to help kids develop their passions – be it science, engineering, creativity, inventing, or whatever else stokes their desire to learn.
Tyson’s statement, “Get out of their way,” cuts through the noise and the jargon to reinforce this simple philosophy.
Yes, it’s Scary
We get it. We totally get it.
Handing over the kitchen, garage, or basement to your kid and letting them explore, build, or possibly destroy it is not easy. I’ve often been tempted to take the hand-mixer out of GirlTastic’s hand and show her how to bake a proper brownie cake. I have a tendency to be cheap and not want to waste money on inedible food as well as a helicopter-parenting urge to follow behind her while cleaning every kitchen surface, including the ceiling (and maybe even the walls in adjoining rooms).
But something amazing happens when I just let go.
Believe it or not, GirlTastic bakes a pretty damn good brownie cake. In fact, this Clueless Dad has been caught more than once sneaking downstairs in the middle of the night to grab a sliver of that fudgy deliciousness.
Dare to Dream
We all have grand visions of our little Nerds growing up to accomplish ground-breaking, earth-shattering things. In our wildest fantasies, we see them saving the world from disease, walking on mars, or developing the next big consumer technology product. We want them to become instant billionaires (and, of course, to buy us a sweet car in the process). But that journey won’t just happen overnight or by chance. It takes years. And it starts now, while our kids are young and still listening to us. Relying on us.
I’ve often said that we spend much of our kids’ early years trying to get them to walk and talk and the rest of their lives telling them to sit-down and be quiet. It’s sad but absolutely true. I nearly snarfed when I heard Tyson echo the sentiment in his Big Think video (great minds!).
I remember the joy we had when NerdBoy and GirlTastic took their first steps or said their first words (it was “mama” by the way – ungrateful kids). But as they’ve gotten older, I’ve somehow misplaced that enthusiasm. Instead of letting them explore an idea or discover something new for themselves, unfortunately, I skip this critical step in their development process and simply provide them with the answer. Big parenting fail!
Let Them Fail
How are my kids going to learn how to solve problems if I’m always solving them for them? How will GirlTastic gain the critical questioning skills she needs in the real world if I won’t let her ask “silly” questions now? How will NerdBoy eventually save the world if I’m too busy protecting him from discovering it himself? The answer is simple:
Get the hell out of the way.
We parents have to let our Nerds fail. This isn’t mission control trying to bring home the Apollo 13 astronauts. Lives are not on the line. So, let them fail and discover the answers themselves. Let them destroy your kitchen (a little).But also teach them a lesson about the importance of cleaning up!
As it says in Raising Nerd’s tagline, raising kids is hard. Raising Nerds is even harder. And don’t I know it! Through much trial and error, instead of spoon-feeding them answers or showing them how to do something the “right” way, I’ve slowly learned to encourage my kids to figure things out on their own.
We don’t know all of the answers, nor should we be expected to know them. So, to save us the heartache and frustration of not knowing everything, let’s let them take their own big brains out for a spin and discover their own answers.
It can be tough on parents, but we all just need get the hell out of the way. I’m confident we’ll be amazed by the things our Nerds discover when we do.