Taking Back the “Nerd” Label

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I’ve been pondering this “nerd” topic for several months, trying to decide how to best express my thoughts. Having a son in middle school makes the topic relevant now more than ever. Elementary and middle school ages are tough for kids. Junior and Senior high school are tough for kids. That is—these stages are tough for some kids, the nerds.

Nerd: a foolish or contemptible person who lacks social skills or is boringly studious. AKA: Dork, Dweeb, Geek.

Harsh, huh?

Who remembers Homecoming Festivities weeks with “Nerd Days” for dress-up? On those days, the real-life nerds could blend in with the non-nerds in glorious harmony among the taped-together glasses, too-short pants, and pocket protectors.

The term “nerd” originated during the 1950s according to the Merriam-Webster online dictionary. I was first labeled a nerd while in elementary school, sometime around second or third grade. Why? I wore glasses. I was a good student. And I loved to read more than anything else.

Brandi-Age 11

Back then, being called a nerd hurt my feelings. I don’t recall how many times I cried over it, but it was a lot of tears. Being a nerd made me feel like less of a person sometimes, like I wasn’t worthy of the inclusion my shy little personality so desperately craved.

Friday night TV helped me embrace my inner and outer-nerd. As nerdy as I was, at least it wasn’t as much as Steve Urkel on “Family Matters”

And now, some kids are wearing glasses they don’t need as fashion accessories. So maybe looking like a nerd isn’t so bad if someone makes the accessory choice but doesn’t behave like a nerd? Who knows?

But, when being labeled a nerd hurts my son’s feelings, I go into mama bear mode. I want him to be unaffected by the term, but I remember how much it hurt. The best course of action I had was to declare an all-out nerd revolt.

We nerds are taking back the term, damn it.

I told my son to own his nerdiness. When the mean kid calls him a nerd, Drew’s response is to be: “Yeah, and?” or “Yeah, that’s right” and to walk away. Bullies have no power with their words if the intended target takes no offense. I know that’s easier said than done, but if enough of us nerds unite, maybe things can be better for our kids.

So my son, Drew, is a nerd. Do you know what else he is? He’s my favorite boy in the whole world. He has a tender heart for animals. He’s affectionate. He’s brilliant. He can build working, moving creations out of Legos that blow my mind. He’s the son of two nerds who are 100% certain that Drew’s going to change the world someday.

I’m a nerd. I always have been, and I always will be. I’m okay with that. I am a damn proud nerd. As I’ve told my children, it’s okay to be the nerdy kid, or the dancing kid, or the singing kid, or the athletic kid. They are allowed to be themselves. One thing I will not let them be is the mean kid. As long as all of the rest of us stick together, there are way more nerds than bullies — way more nice kids than mean kids. So be the nerd; just don’t be the asshole.

Nerds and Nice Kids Unite!

-Brandi Easterling Collins

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3 thoughts on “Taking Back the “Nerd” Label

  1. Joan Collins

    We love and enjoy our nerdie grandson. He’s truly smart, loves science and creating things. Kind to animals and cares deeply about others. One day he might find the cure for cancer, help solve the worlds energy problems. Right now we enjoy just enjoy him for who he is our grandson Drew!

  2. In high school, I was the kid in the middle. Not a nerd but not popular either. I, for the most part, go left alone. But, I would say I was a nerd. I wasn’t overly smart, sucked (and still do) at Math and I didn’t wear glasses.

    But, now I have a third grader. She will likely get picked on because of her stuttering and I just know she’s going to be crushed. Like you, Brandi, I am aiming to teach her to own herself. Be proud of who she is.

    The stuttering sucks, for her and me, and anyone who has to sit and wait 5 mins for her to get a sentence out. But you know what? That’s the only thing that came from her accident. The accident where if it went the other way, she wouldn’t be here anymore. I’d never get to hear her voice. See her smile, or hear her laugh. I wouldn’t get to see the amazing art she creates and I wouldn’t get to feel her warm body in my arms when, at age 9, I still hold her like a baby.

    So screw the bullies! I am so thankful my baby girl is here, and there’s no way bullies will win. They aren’t worth it, she is.

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