Scraped Knees

Sunshine, helmets, scraped knees. The joy you both feel when a bike finally takes off and doesn't crash again within 15 seconds. They’re all part of the iconic experience of teaching a child to ride a bike. There are dozens of these moments found in fishing trips and camping trips, driving lessons, and shooting hoops. Classic parent-child moments captured and pasted on peanut butter jars and ads for laundry soap. As a programmer, my idea of a classic parent-child moment includes teaching my children to code, and like riding a bike, it can bring some scrapes and bruises along the way.

I think kids tend to reject their parents’ passions. No matter what it may be, it’s dismissed as nerdy. It’s easier to get them excited when they're younger, but for something like coding, they might be too young to grasp the concepts. And if you wait too long, you miss your chance. Now they’re too old, and spending time to learn coding with me sounds as enticing as eating broccoli or doing homework. What dad is into isn't cool enough for them.

My 12-year-old is very tech savvy, able to use mobile devices and configure them however she wants to. She uses different operating systems on desktops and laptops including GNU/Linux. She can build websites with WYSIWYG editors and much more. But that doesn’t stop her from teasing me about my apparent nerdiness It's all in good fun, but no matter how much of my computer nerdiness she’s managed to pick up on and retain, it’s still shelved as dorky dad stuff. I have been encouraging her to learn to program for a couple of years now. I show her different tutorials she can complete easily, and have her check out sites like Girls Who Code. But for now it's just not something that she is particularly interested in. I guess it's hard to compete with One Direction and 5sos.

But every so often, I see signs that maybe she’ll grow into it later in life She came home after school one day and told me about a boy she is friends with who is really into coding and computers. She was teasing him about it, in a good natured way I am sure, being that they are good friends, and the boy said something like “Well, what do you know about it?” To which she responded with the equivalent of “Plenty”, and he said “Oh yeah, what languages do you know?”

“Ruby and JavaScript,” she replied. And she does - she’s written programs in both. The boy looked defeated and went about his business elsewhere. She beamed as she told me, was proud of herself for knowing something about coding, and I enjoyed seeing her taking pride in it.

I have a 9 year old daughter who is really into these little toys called “Shopkins ” at the moment. One day she was begging for another package of Shopkins, and I saw an opportunity to try and see if I could get her excited about programming. I agreed to buy her another package of Shopkins, which magically turned into multiple packages when the time came to make good on our deal, if she agreed to finish a JavaScript tutorial at a rate of about a half hour a day. She enthusiastically agreed, and jumped right into it. The first day, she blew past the half hour. Two hours in, I had to make her stop because she was burning herself out. It took her about a week to finish the whole thing, and it seemed pretty easy for her. Most of the time she wanted to work on it on her own, but once in a while she would call me in if she felt stuck. I would point out some small syntax error , and as soon as she felt like she was unstuck, she would shoo me away so that she could continue on with it all by herself. She is fiercely independent sometimes, and I love that about her.

After the deal was over, I was hoping that she would want to continue on with it, but so far she hasn't wanted to. That's ok though. As much fun as I think it is to code, I can't expect her to enjoy it anymore than I can expect her to enjoy the same bands that I do or like the same foods that I do. It is a bonding moment, for sure, whenever they choose to open up a bit to programming, my iconic parent-child moment. But I don’t push it on them too hard . I try to encourage them to explore topics they’re interested in, and should that energy turn towards coding someday, I will be there to help and clean up any scraped knees.