Many parents focus on preparing their children for a digital future by working on their basic math skills, helping them use a computer, or even teaching them the basics of programming. These parents are fools! If there is one thing I have learned from working with loads of developers and Internet geeks, the fundamental driver of true, passionate and sustained engagement with technology is true, passionate and sustained engagement with science fiction.
So we got an early start on Star Wars movies (the original trilogy only — I don’t want to warp their brains with poor aesthetics!), and after a year or so, even got Little Sweetie past referring to it as “Star Horse”. We introduced them to ReBoot, and ordered long-since-extinct Reboot action figures using the power of eBay. We watched Galaxy Quest, and were delighted when the kids petitioned us for a repeat viewing.
But let’s be honest: that level of sci-fi engagement will take them only as far as a little weekend hacking or the occasional smartphone app. If we want to raise the CTOs of tomorrow, there’s only one science fiction genre that can properly equip them for the job: Star Trek.
Much to our dismay, however, the kids have proven Trek-resistant. We’ve tried engrossing them with Dora the Explorer, and then quickly flipping to a TNG episode: the little stinkers beg to be returned to the lesson in counting in Spanish. Don’t they understand that they only need to know the words for 8, 16, 32 and 64?
This weekend I decided to get serious. Little Sweetie hit me up for some gumball machine money, and in return, I made her promise to try watching the latest Star Trek movie. But I’ll be honest: it was an empty threat. As much as I loved the sight of Chris Pine in lycra, the overall movie rates as a bejeesus-level scarer for a 7- and 4-year-old.
So it’s back to the challenge of finding the right kid-friendly entry points into the Star Trek universe. Some of the suggestions I’ve seen:
- Raven Snook of Time Out New York recommends the original series for grade-schoolers, on the grounds that “[t]he adventures can be tense but are rarely gruesome, and they’re less talky than Next Generation episodes.” But I confess that I really don’t enjoy TOS, so I want to get them started with The Next Generation or maybe Voyager. If you don’t share my prejudice, you should check out this forum post with recommended TOS episodes for kids.
- TrekMovie’s list of the top 10 scary Star Trek episodes tells me what to avoid, but not what to seek out.
- Also at TrekMovie, James Trowbridge, a 10-year-old Trek blogger, argues that Star Trek needs an update in order to be kid-relevant:
Star Trek’s vision of the future has almost become a reality, because now we see automatic doors, cell phones, and microwaves every day. Maybe when they make a new Star Trek, they should give us a new vision of the future that we haven’t seen already.
- If I want them to turn all bookish on me, I’ll be tempted to try out Starfleet Academy: Worf’s First Adventure.
- This list of top 10 TNG episodes reminds me of how tough it will be to get the kids trek-ified: only one episode, The Nth Degree, looks like it might be both interesting enough, unscary enough, and unconfusing enough for our kids.
Reviewing the complete list of TNG episodes on Wikipedia made me think of a few other possible candidates for starter treks:
- Pen Pals, because of the android-befriends-kid theme.
- Captain’s Holiday, because of the adventure pacing and lack of ties to the Star Trek backstory.
- Tin Man, because it’s crazy and telepathic and interesting in a way that could get them turned onto Trek.
- Clues, because the kids like a mystery.
- The Outcast, because it’s a good intro to Star Trek-as-political-propaganda…though it could make the kids sad.
- The Inner Light, because it’s one of my favorites, as long as it doesn’t make the kids worry about the world ending.
- Lessons, because Little Sweetie is a hopeless romantic.
You’ll notice that I’ve erred on the side of boredom (better for the episode to be too talky than too scary), which means no Borg. I’ve also steered clear of time travel, because at least in the first instance, it’s a lot for the kids to get their minds around. But I’d love to hear from other parents and Trek-lovers:
What are the best Start Trek episodes for young (under-10) kids?