There’s Never Been A Better Time To Be A ‘Weird’ Kid

Kids today are more likely, even encouraged, to explore unique interests than we were a generation ago. That’s a good thing.

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It's a great time to be a weird kid in 2023
Ariela Basson/Scary Mommy; Stocksy, Shutterstock

As soon as my 9-year-old twins dropped their scooters on the front porch and burst through the front door, I smelled spray paint. In the past, most parents would have been concerned their kids were involved in some sort of vandalism — but my twins are members of a graffiti club at school. As an artsy kid myself, I didn’t have access to things like graffiti clubs, mural arts programs, or LEGO robotics clubs like my kids do today. For many millennial parents like me, most extracurriculars were limited to sports (not my jam) or band and chorus.

In the 90s, my friends and I had very unique interests and were viewed as oddballs or “weird” kids by the rest of our peers, so we kept quiet about our love for cross-stitching or country western line dancing. But with the explosion of online connectivity as well as a broader understanding of how kids learn, more kids are able to explore their very cool and unique interests — and it’s been so wonderful for this weird kid to watch.

All four of my kids have some very unique interests that have been a joy to encourage. My 11-year-old collects globes, coins, and flags. He recently wore an Air Force flight suit gifted from a neighbor to school for a week without any negative peer feedback. My twins are interested in every type of art that exists, but mostly large-scale installations like street art. They got to help paint our town’s mural, a highlight for them. My 4-year-old is in love with creepy dead things. She asked for a frog to dissect, and of course, grandma complied.

Curious to know how far this extended beyond my own family, I asked around. Erin Thompson, the youth services coordinator at our town library, says her nearly 8-year-old is into Japanese Vocaloid, a voice synthesizing software used to create unique music, and how metro systems work. Richelle, another mom I reached out to, told me her fourth grade son is into maritime disasters like the Titanic. “I got him a Titanic ornament a couple of years ago,” she told me. “It had a picture of the ship sinking and people in the water… pretty morbid actually, but he loved it.”

I asked psychologist Emily King about these intense interests. Her podcast and newsletter are a go-to for me with many parenting questions, as she’s spent time as a school psychologist and now in private practice with neurodivergent kids. It’s incredibly common for all kids throughout elementary school to have unique interests in hobbies as their brains are growing at an amazing rate.

King wishes these diversified activities were more widely available. When I asked about this topic on social media, I noticed that friends in urban areas had more access to specialized classes and programs, whereas rural areas lacked. One friend in rural upstate New York told me that sports are still king in her area, and quirkier kids still struggle.

My friend Cristie Gabuzda has four kids who have a wide range of interests. Their family has attended public school and now homeschools, but says her kids have found acceptance among their peers overall, even encouragement. Her 12-year-old, Lillian, became interested in special effects makeup after career day in first grade. From there, YouTube has fostered the interest, though classes are available to her once she turns 13. “She hoped some of her friends would be into it, but while it’s not their thing, they generally take some time letting her practice and celebrating her gory looks at sleepovers,” says her mom.

So how can parents encourage their quirky kids? The internet, for one, is your friend, says Dr. Mirian Rube, Head of School for Xceed Preparatory Academy in Miami. “Students in elementary school are more open to any interest presented by their parents or teachers if those experiences are enthusiastically introduced, supported, and shared,” she said. “Younger students have not yet realized the power of peer pressure or are too excited about their own interests to worry about what others think.” By middle school, she says, students are less likely to openly express an interest that is not shared by their peer group. Finding peers with similar interests in elementary school can buoy those kids through middle school and beyond — even into a career.

As for me, I’m letting my 5th grader order a Napoleonic military costume, “for everyday use, not Halloween” and my four-year-old is finally dissecting that formaldehyde frog in my pantry. Much of my own childhood was spent trying to hide what I viewed as “weird” interests. How many of my peers would have liked to spend an afternoon researching the history of pony breeds? I will never know, because I was too scared to ask. It took me until my thirties to realize I could base my entire career on those interests — writing about people, destinations, and trends from around the world. I can already tell that my kids are more confident than I was at their age. My 9-year-old son can say with confidence that he wants to be a graphic designer that works on large-scale projects because he is getting to actually try this out — and it’s cool. His interest might change tomorrow, but that’s all part of how little brains grow and develop.

Meg St-Esprit, M. Ed. is a journalist and essayist based in Pittsburgh, PA. She’s a mom to four kids via adoption as well as a twin mom. She loves to write about parenting, education, trends, and the general hilarity of raising little people. Follow her on Twitter and Instagram to keep up with her work.

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