Everything I Know About Parenting I Learned From Tron

Geek Culture

GeekDad Tron Week, images from Disney

The Tron Guy (Jay Maynard) by Laughing SquidThe Tron Guy (Jay Maynard) by Laughing Squid

The philosophy of Tron is an inspiration for parents everywhere. (source: laughingsquid)

Once upon a time, arcade owner Kevin Flynn journeyed through a virtual world to emerge the CEO of the largest computer company in the world. Before the decade had ended, however, Flynn was missing and presumed dead (except in Dayton), giving rise to a disenchanted son and a sequel to a 1982 classic science fiction film.

Tron: Legacy opens this weekend as the next chapter in the Flynn chronicles. You don’t have to hit me with a digitizing laser to see all the parenting lessons to be learned from life on and off The Grid. So, put down your copy of Digital Frontier, crank up the Daft Punk, and follow this bouncing Bit for a few cycles.

On the Other Side of the Screen, It All Looks So Easy

Kevin Flynn has this revelation not long after experiencing the life-and-death struggles of programs on The Grid. Standing at a screen with a joystick and a few buttons is a lot less stressful than wrapping a light cycle around your armored body and running through walls. Most parents have a similar insight sometime between the first ultrasound and the first RSV scare. Many of our best intentions and careful planning before kids become irrelevant in the field. We spend much of our time out of our comfort zone dealing with the unexpected and saying things we never thought we’d say, like: “Your sister is not a weapon!”

Bring In the Logic Probe

Sark has ways of getting information from uncooperative programs, but such devices don’t exist for kids. In fact, there is little resembling logic in their arguments for why shoes aren’t needed in blizzards or how it’s possible to watch a whole Mythbusters in the five minutes before bedtime. Our rational explanations about why cheese puffs are not an adequate source of protein are at odds with the facts that the bag is already open and we keep the peanut butter in the other room. Especially when our children are upset and bubbling with emotion, kid logic needs translation in both directions.

I’ve Gotten 2,415 Times Smarter Since Then

When CEO Ed Dillinger reminds his program who wrote it, the Master Control Program responds with the snarky implication that it has outgrown its creator. Even Flynn has this problem with his CLU program. For anyone who has watched a son or daughter run into their school without looking back, dealing with this kind of separation—although far less ominous and adversarial than the threats of the MCP—is a part of being a parent. We hope that our kids become smarter than we are, equipped with the tools needed to thrive in the world without us. The tradeoff can be a sense of obsoletion, though probably not the literal kind that gets us fired from our cushy VP job.

I Shouldn’t Have Written All Those Tank Programs

Not everything a User does is according to plan. Like Kevin Flynn’s first visit to the virtual world, we parents reap what we sow. What we say can have unintended outcomes, and what we do today establishes the norms of tomorrow. When we notice our bad behavior in our kids, we have to be self-aware enough to understand the culture we helped create. Changing our children requires a willingness to be changed ourselves.


In the new movie, Flynn’s orphaned son Sam follows his dad’s path into The Grid and poses an important newbie question: “What am I supposed to do?” Siren Jem’s response is good advice for parents, too, who find that question to be a daily mantra. The practical reality of raising kids is that each day brings a different challenge. Consider it a successful day whenever everyone winds up asleep in their beds at night. As Tron excitedly proclaims during their journey to defeat the MCP, “We made it!… this far.” Maybe that’s all life can ask of us.

End of line.

I also learned from

Harry Potter
System Administrators
Adrian Monk
Leslie Nielsen

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