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How to raise a happy geek kid

Kristen Rutherford

A Japanese culture geek in the making! Kristen Rutherford's 3-year-old daughter Vivienne hugs her stuffed Totoro tightly.

Ever since my nephew was born almost two years ago, I've had one thought in my mind: When can I introduce him to "Star Wars"? It's no secret I'm the geek in my family, in love with sci-fi, fantasy, superheroes, video games and other so-called "geeky" interests. Now that my nephew is getting older, I can't wait for us to enjoy some of these geeky passions together. My eagerness to put a lightsaber in his hand and explain to him the Jedi code however, has been delayed by many people telling me the time isn't right yet. So when is the right time?

It's a question shared by many proudly geeky parents. Plenty of books can tell you when kids should be walking and talking, but what about the important questions like: When should they be able to lift their own lightsaber? Are comic books appropriate bedtime reading for an infant? And if they're not conversant with "Dr. Who" lingo by the time they graduate from elementary school, should you be concerned? 

I decided to turn to the experts for advice. Ken Denmead, editor and publisher of Wired’s GeekDad blog, jokingly told me the time to introduce my nephew to "Star Wars" was the day after he was born (which I would have if he was my kid, I insisted).

“This is part of your culture and your family culture, it’s a natural part of your day to day life,” Denmead said.

Denmead said events like watching "Star Wars" will be cultural touchstones in their lives and it’s all about parents, or aunts and uncles, seeing what the child developmentally can handle before introducing them to something. There's no reason I shouldn't introduce "Star Wars" alphabet books to my nephew now, but Denmead said the key is not overdoing it.

Kristen Rutherford, head writer and creative producer for BBC America’s The Nerdist and a contributing writer to Wired’s GeekMom blog, agreed.  

“Every kid is different. I feel like you have to really pay attention to your kid and listen to them and have a dialogue,” Rutherford told TODAY.com. “There is no real timeline for these things.”

Denmead’s sons, who are now 12 and 14, resisted learning about the role-playing game "Dungeons and Dragons" when Denmead introduced it to them at a younger age. Instead of pushing it, he dropped the topic and let his rule books remain around the house.

Ken Denmead

Denmead enjoys some quality geek time with his two sons.

“One day my older son came to me [with the 'Dungeons & Dragons' rule book] and said ‘this looks really cool. What is it?’ That’s the perfect way to do it, let them discover for themselves,” Denmead, who is also the author of “The Geek Dad” book series, told TODAY.com.

Considering I have bought my nephew only one "Star Wars" onesie so far, I seem to be on the right track for not pushing it. When I talk about my interests or he visits me and is curious about my "Star Wars" collection, I'll be ready for his questions. Maybe one day we'll geek out over my collections together. But that leads to another issue.

What if a child DOES share your geek passion? A top worry of geek-minded parents is bullying.

“A lot of people say we stand proud as a geek, a nerd, [but] how did we get here? In some cases, it’s not a pretty story. We were bullied, ostracized, a loner,” Rutherford said.

Rutherford is also the co-host of Geek & Sundry’s #parent Google Hangout, where there was a huge response to a discussion about bullying.

She has her own worries with her 3-year-old daughter, Vivienne, who is starting to share her mother’s love of Japanese culture. Since her mom listens to J-pop (Japanese pop music) Vivienne enjoys it and sings along in Japanese. Her first movie was Hayao Miyazaki's “Totoro" -- not exactly the Disney Princess fare most of her preschool classmates will know.

“I worry [that] here I am introducing her to these things and some people [who are familiar with Japanese films] say that’s cool, but a majority of people say what is she talking about?” Rutherford said.

Her advice to parents worried about bullying is simple: Talk, and listen.

“Listen to your kids and talk to them.  If you talk to them… you don’t have to worry as much because you won’t be second guessing what’s happening at school,” Rutherford said. “You can talk about it and work it through with them and at least they’ll know you support them and they’re not alone.”

Rutherford and six other experts will talk about geek parenting issues at this weekend's New York Comic-Con, on on a panel titled “GeekMoms: Raising Young Padawans”.  Rutherford hopes people will stay after the panel to connect and share their experiences with like-minded parents.

"We're going to talk a lot about media and milestones, how becoming a parent, a mother [who's] into comic books, TV and a lot of other things, how that can change when you have a child," Rutherford said. "How media is different seen through the eyes as a geek parent." 

Are you a geeky parent (or aunt like me) who’s sharing your passion with your own little Jedi? We want to see what your geeky kids enjoy!

Send us photos of your geeky kids and we’ll feature some of the best ones here on TODAY.com just in time for New York Comic-Con! Submit your picture below and share your experiences and advice in the comment section.

Lisa Granshaw is a TODAY.com editor and proud to be an awesomely geeky aunt. 

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