Passing the Geek Parent Baton: Welcoming Kids to Your Favourite Fandoms

By Kevin Dilmore and Matt Gowen on May 5th, 2021
Welcome kids to fandom 1

For a geek dad, geek mom or geek parent whose heart and mind are filled by the songs and stories of popular culture, there’s nothing quite like seeing your kid run through the house with a towel playing the part of a hero’s cape or a wooden spoon transformed into a magic wand or a rock star’s microphone.

Geek parents like these await any sign that a seed of shared interests has been planted and a new fan has bloomed. But is there a right way to cultivate a young fan and encourage kids to love what we love?

As a couple of geek dads old enough to have seen the first Star Wars movie in theatres and eaten bowls of sugary cereal in front of Saturday-morning cartoons, our short answer is: We hope so.

Welcome kids to fandom 1

We all have origin stories

Is pop-culture fandom a product of nature or nurture? Were any of us initially wired to love what we love? We may not remember all the details of when we watched our first Super Friends cartoon or college basketball game, but the great likelihood is that we didn’t turn on the TV or walk into the arena by ourselves.

Our parents found ways to introduce us to characters and musicians and sports stars. Once something started to take hold with us, they supported our interests with birthday and holiday gifts, with school supplies and T-shirts and bedding. They may not have been fans themselves, but our parents enabled us when we were in that sweet spot of childhood.

Geek parent tip: Meet your kids where they are

  • Stories at bedtime are great opportunities to share storybook versions of pop-culture properties you love. Picture books with kid-friendly takes are growing in number all the time (even for grown-up movies such as Alien).
  • Many kids watch as much YouTube as anything else, and they are masters of scouring the site for clips. Surf with them and click on some of your own favourite pop-culture moments to share.
  • Nothing beats a regular family movie night for introducing a favourite to the kids. Your pick might catch fire with them, or they may glance more at their phone than the screen—and that’s okay. Keeping the mood casual and fun makes things more inviting for them.
  • Kids’ favourite characters and story lines may come from games. Interactive story lines, virtual reality and online gaming seem to come instinctually for even the youngest younglings. When they ask to borrow your phone for the millionth time, get them to show you how to play their favourites—and the best YouTube tutorials.

Is it too soon for a velociraptor?

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Whether through cartoons, movies or small plastic figures, dinosaurs have maintained a generations-long grip on kids’ imaginations. That does not mean your child is ready to see a pack of realistically rendered giant lizards terrorize families enjoying an island vacation—or get eaten by one in a video game.

As with anything else, it’s always best to know your audience and trust the ratings. What might give some kids a rough night of sleep just as easily might give other kids the inspiration to create stop-motion videos with their favourite toys and a smart phone.

When your child (or you) just can’t stay away from sharing something on the edge of appropriateness, talk out the details ahead of time even if it means spoiling a plot point. Sometimes we parents get more scared about our kids being scared than the kids actually do get scared. Go figure.

Geek parent tip: Yeah, there is such a thing as too soon

  • Reread and rewatch your old favourites with your “nightmare filter” on. You are well aware of your kids’ personal triggers; respect them and you all will be happier for it.
  • Check with other parents to see what your kids’ peers are hot on, then introduce things similar to what you like but more age-appropriate—and watch with them. There is plenty of dinosaur programming for kids not quite ready for Jurassic Park.
  • To get a younger kid interested, consider whether what you like is “playable” away from the page or screen to extend the experience. Reading or watching Winnie the Pooh snuggled next to a real Pooh Bear makes a big impression.

What does it all really mean?

A lot of our favourite stories run deeper than plotlines of good vs. evil. They might be intended as metaphors for what might lurk within our own insecurities or what problems we’ve brought on ourselves. All our kids might want from a movie, though, is the chance to see some wormy creature popping out of some screaming dude. And that’s okay!

So many of what were our favourite movies or albums or storybooks as kids remain fun to revisit as adults. The better of those works reveal more layers and different lessons to us over time not because the works have changed but because we have.

The greatest stories grow with us, just as they will with our children. Don’t fret when they don’t see now what you see—because they will.

Geek parent tip: Help them see more than they see

  • Share your memories of what got you into what you enjoy. Share how you feel about a certain character, a creator, a specific past experience or even stories of how you and your friends shared your interests together.
  • Start a discussion about the themes that drive the stories you enjoy. If your kids love the ideas but don’t line up with a particular work, look together for something similar.
  • Explore what people do to make these stories come alive for us: writing, art, animation, music, creating worlds and characters, video game design, filmmaking…so many careers start with technology kids already have in their hands.

With fan power comes geek parent responsibility

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One huge advantage kids have today—and a big responsibility we have as geek parents—comes from the ever-growing number of diverse characters and diverse content-creators. Our fantasy and future worlds are a lot less white and straight than in previous generations, and our kids will be better people and better imaginers as a result. We need to explore these fresh voices ourselves so we can steer our kids toward them—and learn from those voices ourselves, too.

Fandom should be a big tent under which everyone is welcome. We have lifelong friends with whom we first connected because we loved watching and reading the same stuff, and so will our kids. And now, we can throw online gaming in that mix.

But being a fan now means dealing with users of social media who try to shame us for what we enjoy. We can guide our young fans away from painful tweets and memes—and we would do well to discourage them from adding to that negative energy.

Geek parent tip: Be the learner, not the master

  • Scout out diverse creators of music and movies and books to experience together for the first time.
  • Encourage healthy conversation about what connects you through the differences in interests you have (science fiction vs. fantasy, live action vs. animation, books vs. movies vs. games) with the agreement that there are no wrong opinions.
  • Turn things around and let your kids introduce you to what they really like—whether it comes in the form of a book or comic, TV show or movie, or game. You may find a whole new take on the type of stories you love, and you’ll learn more about your kids in the process.

When the shine starts to wear off

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And then the day comes when we see our kids pulling down the posters and packing away the toys to make room for the new stuff they love. We parents can feel a little sting in those moments.

Take comfort in knowing everyone is likely to come back to whatever it is they loved so earnestly; it happens to us all when we remember what made us a fan in the first place.

Then you can look forward to seeing your own children fueling their kids’ interests just as we did with them and our parents did with us. We will see the process of the baton pass—and feel like kids again ourselves.

Geek parent tip: Ways of keeping the interest high and the love alive

  • Get fashionable with your kids. Make and wear T-shirts, Halloween costumes or as-accurate-as-you-like cosplay outfits and mashups.
  • Encourage your kids to connect with friends to rewatch shows, discuss what they watch or hear or read, attend pop-culture conventions or start their own neighbourhood con!
  • Get creative! Crawl on the floor with your kids to play with action figures, make TikTok videos or songs, or write and draw your own comics.

About Kevin Dilmore

Hometown: Abilene, Kansas
Artistic style: Pretty much anything that can be done by typing into Microsoft Word.
Inspiration: Comics, TV shows, movies, books and music from the past as well as today.
Happy place: In line for a midnight movie screening, wandering around a comic-book store on a Wednesday, sitting down to watch a downloaded TV series pilot.
Favorite project or work of art: Any page from "DC: The New Frontier" by Darwyn Cooke