Superheroes: Bad for kids

A new study published in The Journal of Abnormal Child Psychology suggests super-beings might not be the greatest role models for children, after all. (Disclaimer: This applies to imaginary superheroes, not biblical characters or angels.)

Still child safe.

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Sure, we all felt way too proud of ourselves when the entire city of San Francisco participated in cancer survivor Miles Scott’s wish to save Gotham City as Batkid, and hell yes, his love of the Dark Knight helped get him through years of chemo, but it turns out that preschoolers may miss a lot of the subtleties of their heroes’ backstories or behavior, and may not be taking away the life lessons we hope to give them.

A proud day for America, even if none of it was real.

According to the research, more tykes are impressed with the destructive capabilities of superheroes than by their role as saviors and protectors.

Kids like him when he’s angry.

Preschoolers who engage in what the study calls “superhero culture”—watching videos, playing with action figures, dressing in costumes, and other activities now acceptable for adults—are more likely to be aggressive a year later. What they’re not more likely to be is more social and protective of others.

The primary author of the study theorizes this may be because storylines are complex and not geared toward very young children, but she stops short of suggesting banning Spider-Man pajamas, and instead calls for “balance”. Parents might consider other forms of electronic babysitting and/or actually talking to their children about both the positive and negative aspects of their hero’s behavior.

Surely, there’s a suitable TEDx talk or something that busy moms and dads could crib from.

Here’s a thought to ponder after a nice long MLK Jr weekend: Maybe, just maybe, there are some real heroes who have overcome adversity and saved the world (again, and again, and again) to tell your kids about. Maybe if parents want their kids to act like heroes, they need to lionize those traits of sacrifice, selflessness, compassion, and courage in protecting the weak.

Fighting for truth and justice for over 50 years.

Then again, the only thing cuter than a kid dressed as Batman is a kitten dressed as Batman.

Seriously, click the link.


Marion Stein

Marion writes television recaps and reviews for the Agony Booth, and books you can find over at Amazon.

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  • Deneb T. Hall

    I would argue that it might also have something to do with how far away from kids modern superhero culture has swerved. I mean, sure, there’s plenty of kid-friendly superhero shows and stuff, but the actual comics and movies have overall gotten a lot darker – with exceptions, yes, but still. Inevitably, some of that stuff trickles down. (Or you could look at it another way and acknowledge that, yes, little kids tend to be a bit on the self-absorbed side, and of COURSE they’re going to fantasize about turning into the Hulk and punching the local bully into next year rather than saving the city from danger. ‘Innocent’ doesn’t necessarily mean ‘selfless’.)

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  • ColdFusion

    What a massive crock. Being aggressive and destructive is vital. The important thing is setting a strong line between good guys and bad guys, and you only hurt the bad. If you took a closer look at those “heroes” of protest, you’d find most of them are pretty destructive too, and usually for the most petty and selfish reasons, with barely any consequences to themselves.

  • Chris Palmer

    So what fictional heroes are good role models for kids?

    • Marioninnyc

      I think the key word here is “pre-schoolers”. We’re talking about really young kids here, and exposing them to images and stories that are made for an older audience is going to cause some confusion. Maybe parents have to act as a filter for some of this, and actually talk with their kids instead of turning videos into babysitters and hoping for the best.

    • Andrew Buckles

      That’s the real question. Beyond that, what is a good role model for kids (or even us as adults) that we actually want to read/see/obsess over.

      I am in a religious type book group, and a chapter was discussing superheros vs. the values we want to teach our children. IE saying 6 days a week we like stories of revenge, fighting, etc. and on the 7th we walk into church and talk about who we ‘really are’ in the context of our religion, and the disconnect between what you consume and what you profess.

      Half of parenting is actually engaging with the child. IE watching a show with them and talking about it afterwards. Why is this happening, why did this person do this, and so forth. Even a poor morality can be valuable if you actually talk about it afterwards.