Why I struggled to support my son’s passion for his Rubik’s Cube hobby

If your child’s ‘sport’ required hours of Youtube videos, would you be okay with it?

Rubik's Cube competitors. Photo courtesy of Jen Reyneri

There’s no doubt that today’s society is overrun by technology, the internet, and social media … and perhaps no one feels these things more acutely than parents, who must work to balance and battle these technologies daily for the health and well-being of our kids. So you can imagine how concerned I was as the mom of a young teenager who became interested in a hobby that required him to be on YouTube for hours-on-end … every day.

We knew early on that our son wasn’t much of a sports guy, but rather interested in “sport for the mind.” And, of course, I was okay with that. I’d been coaching his FIRST Lego League Robotics team, and we’d even been to the state championships. I was proud of him, and wanted to help him develop his mental gifts. So when one day he asked me to buy a Rubik’s Cube for him, it seemed like a simple request. It was a classic puzzle toy—totally harmless and even a little nostalgic for someone my age. I barely gave it another thought. Yet I’d never imagined the depth to which he’d become involved in this international craze, spanning decades: speed cubing.

 

Makani, Jen Reyneri’s son. Photo Courtesy of Jen Reyneri

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Like I once did, you probably think speed cubing mostly requires hours of the physical practice decoding a hand-held cube with six-sides of six different colors, each made up of nine smaller square tiles—and you’d be right. But it also required my son to watch video after video, to understand the various techniques for both accuracy and speed while solving the puzzle.

I’m not saying there’s anything really dangerous about cubing in its main context. But as a blogger myself, who sets boundaries on my own screen time, I am aware and concerned about internet safety, especially when it came to my own children. And my worries grew when I read an eye-opening article on Top Ten Reviews that reported:

93% of teens ages 12-17 go online, 63% every day

73% of teens are on a social network

37% send messages to friends every day

66% send private messages to friends

52% send group messages

55% of teens have given out personal info to someone they don t know, including photos and physical descriptions

67% of teenagers say they know how to hide what they do online from parents

43% of teens say they would change their online behavior if they knew that their parents were watching them

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Yet, through all of those startling and even scary statistics about spending too much time online, here I stand on the other side of my son’s hours and hours of online videos, the proud mom of a speed cuber. Though, as you might have guessed, it wasn’t always that way.

After that first cube, things escalated quickly. He wanted more cubes, and more time online to help study them. At first, I was adamant about curbing his digital time, which was mostly spent watching Youtube videos. As a family, we’d been seeking more disconnected time and now here he was, spending more and more time online! I was worried he’d be stalked, bullied, or even worse. So even though I was proud and impressed when I first discovered my little math genius could solve his “main” speed cube in about 15 seconds, I was still completely apprehensive of my son’s new pursuit.

And I fought the hobby in other ways, too. When he asked for more cubes, my responses weren’t all that enthusiastic: “What do you mean you need one more cube? Didn’t we just buy you one?”

But his answers always won me over: “Yes, mom, but this one is a 5×5, or this one has a different mechanism and I can take it apart and lube it to make it faster.” Sometimes, I’d be learning all new lingo: “Mom, this one’s a Megaminx … a Pyraminx … or a Skewb.”

He continued to spend hours online, memorizing new turns of the colorful bricks like the corner-turning “sexy move.” (And, no, I didn’t like that terminology when I first heard it!)

Now he’d also study laminated charts of algorithms on our car rides and always have a cube in his pocket, or grasped in his hand when he was walking. He was constantly using his saved money to buy “one more cube” because it had a different mechanism, shape or more rows. I’d wonder, How can they be so different? Aren’t they all just cube puzzles? But, then again, this was a toy that had boggled my mind since the 1980s.

My husband and I were still a little mystified, but after much debate, we allowed our son to join the “WCA”—the World Cube Association— which regulates competitions and rankings around the globe.

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Six months into his newfound hobby, we discovered ourselves driving two hours away for his first competition. And it was there that I really saw what this hobby did for my son. I was nearly in tears as I watched him confidently decode cubes in a room full of 100 other tweens and teens who were all doing the same thing. He was in his element. He had met his people: online. We had found a community of kids who loved solving cubes (and moms who felt much the same way that I did, I found out).

Jen Reyneri, her two son and husband on their way to a Rubik’s cube Competition. Photo Courtesy of Jen Reyneri

I realized these competitors were here not to compete against each other, but to better their own personal scores and to build a community based on a common interest, despite their many differences. And I couldn’t have been more proud. Sure, it wasn’t soccer or lacrosse or any of those traditional young boy sports. But as I watched him turn and flip his cube at lightening speed, I appreciated that this was a sport in its own right. At any moment, with the right computer generated scramble and a bit of luck, another world record could be broken in this room full of “tech geeks.” It felt like the last colored row of a rubik’s cube clicking into place for me. Because most important of all: It made my son happy.

Jen and her two sons on Fathom cruise lines with a bag of Rubik’s Cubes to give to children in the Dominican Republic (through a social worker). Photo Courtesy of Jen Reyneri

Since that first competition, we have traveled across the nation to competitions and met many friends along the way. We’ve hosted our own competitions, mentored others and helped our budding young speed-cubing entrepreneur build his own cubing community website, Cubing.US, a social enterprise which has already donated over 500 speed cubes to children around the globe.

Now this is how he spends his free time. And I’m so glad that I didn’t stand in his way. He mesmerizes audiences everywhere we go, and has even been featured in the local news. Now he can solve the trickiest of cubes and is a true problem solver by nature, in anything thrown our way.

Once I encouraged him to pursue his passion, I’ve been given a glimpse to how our paths of passions and interest can actually intersect and make a difference, together, as a team. I just had to be willing to think outside the cube, look for the blessings, and become a mom that connected with my son offline and online, which is just where he needed to be.

Do you have a child with a non-traditional passion? How did you handle it? Tell us in the comments below!

Follow Cubing.US on Instagram for fun Cube-ography

Jen Reyneri
Jen Reyneri

Renaissance woman Jen Reyneri and her husband Luis lead a local fellowship & stewardship ministry and often live life on the road with their two home-schooled sons. Jen is founder of WordTraveling.com, educational travel ambassador for Trekaroo, and the author of “Reset: A Poetic Manifesto for the Digital Age.” Spirited and spirit filled, she savors life, poetic words, sabbaticals and strong coffee. Connect with @JenReyneri on Instagram, Twitter and Facebook.

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