The Geeks Shall Inherit the EarthI’m reading an excellent book right now called The Geeks Shall Inherit the Earth. It’s the newest title from Alexandra Robbins, the best-selling author of Pledged and Overachievers. It’s a fascinating look at kids on the “cafeteria fringe” in high school — loners, gamers, band geeks, nerds — and how the characteristics that tend to set these teens apart from their more popular peers tend to be the same characteristics that will lead them to success as adults.

After all, Bill Gates spent more time programming than socializing with friends. Lady Gaga was a social outcast for her originality. Steven Spielberg was an unapologetic film geek. NONE of them were popular. They stood out from their high school peers because they were passionate about things that weren’t always cool. Those passions — and the drive to pursue them — are precisely why they are so highly respected today. Robbins labels this idea “Quirk Theory.”

There’s a lot of great stuff for parents in this book. I can’t recommend it highly enough, and I’ll blog more about it in the weeks to come. But today I wanted to focus on something from the book that inspires and challenges me. In her reporting, Robbins spends a ton of time with several real-life high school outcasts. It’s not surprising that all of them struggle to fit in with their peers, but what IS surprising is how much pressure to fit in comes from their parents…

Well-meaning moms and dads who want their kids to be “normal” or popular.

Parents who criticize their teens for not conforming to social standards related to weight, clothes, mannerisms, haircuts, and interests.

Parents who want their own teens to be accepted by the cool kids, and end up asking them to tone down the things that make that kid unique — and primed for success — in the first place.

Robbins writes:

Imagine what it must be like for teenagers like Wade or Eli, who don’t feel they have room to breathe in their own homes. If you are a parent reading this book, you care about your child. If she is quirky, unusual, or nonconformist, ask yourself whether you are doing everything you can to nurture her unusual interests, style, or skills, or whether instead you are directly or subtly pushing her to hide them.

I was a high schooler with unusual interests and skills (religion, art, creative writing). I didn’t often fit in, though I desperately wanted to. I can identify with SO much in this book. And my wife and I are raising two kids who are definitely unique. One of them is so much like me that I worry about the next few years, because I know how hard it can be. It’s tough not to fit in.

But I don’t dare try to dull my kids’ weirdness — because those very quirks are what make them one-of-a-kind, and primed to succeed once the teen years are in the rear-view mirror. I should be feeding those passions and letting them grow wild rather than trimming them back.

If you’re a mom or dad, you need to read this book.

(Disclosure: I was sent a free review copy of The Geeks… by the publisher, but without any expectations attached. I get sent a lot of free books, but don’t always blog about them. I’ve been pleasantly surprised how good this one has been.)

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