Are Superheroes Good or Bad for Kids?
When I was young, I was a huge Wonder Woman fan, as were most girls who grew up watching the Superfriends or Wonder Woman, played so glamorously by Lynda Carter, who never seemed to lose her cool, even in the most harrowing life-and-death situations. I wore her Underoos, her costume for Halloween and, much later in life, got myself a pair of shiny, knee-length, red boots (sans heels) to conquer each day with. You haven’t truly lived until you’ve walked the world in red boots. As a kid, I thought, who wouldn’t want to be Wonder Woman, the woman who saves the day, taking on bad guys and girls alike? Actually, in terms of superheroes, there weren’t a lot of popular female crime fighters to choose from except Supergirl (boring) and Batgirl, who my daughter has chosen to be for Halloween over my favorite Amazon, a move I very much approve of. Librarian by day, crime fighter at night—now that’s cool. Much cooler than princesses, I think. (Sorry, Disney. Oh, wait, you own Marvel now too. Smart move.) These days, superheroes abound in pop culture, but it’s still those classic characters I see the boys at my daughter’s preschool dressed up as in full costume throughout the year — Captain America, Spider-Man, Batman, Superman — wandering in a sea of mostly Elsas and Annas. My initial reaction to the weekly parade of superheroes at her school was amusement. C’mon, it’s hilarious starting your day off walking by a pint-sized Spider-Man and Batman. And, you see, when my daughter first started preschool there, she didn’t know anyone, but she knew those superheroes. They were familiar even if no one else was, and that kind of made things okay. I really like that her school allows that kind of play and dress up. I don’t see it as a big deal, but that’s not the case elsewhere. I’ve heard of preschools banning superhero play because it was getting too rough. One father I met recently told me that his kid’s preschool didn’t allow them to dress up as superheroes because they didn’t set good examples for conflict resolution. And my husband heard that childcare administrators at a local YMCA didn’t allow superheroes because they wanted to emphasize that everyone was special. There are, of course, arguments and research saying healthy superhero play is important. Kids, girls included, get to explore fantasy scenarios and different personalities, can learn the concepts of goodness and fairness, gain confidence and may be inspired to do heroic acts, among other positives aspects of such play. I’ve seen this kind of play opening up whole new worlds to my daughter so far. Yes, perhaps she’s getting a little too daring with her stunts, so we’ll have to work on that. But Captain America and his friends have even helped me with bath time. She’s much more will willing to bathe if it means the superheroes (and Elsa and Anna) are getting washed too. And, honestly, teaching her these different characters’ lives through old and new TV shows, comic books and our own home superhero play (for some reason, my daughter always makes me the Hulk) has also inspired me to be more superhero-like, minus the violence. Reading the news most days is so upsetting I’m wishing for superheroes to come in and save us from all this madness. I’ve now stopped wishing and have started working toward that safer world that Wonder Woman — but really my parents — gave me growing up. Because I really want my daughter to see the potential in everyone - including herself and her parents - to be heroes. And for me, it starts with fighting crime right here where we live, which is what I set out to do recently with some friends, just by contacting our local councilman’s office to discuss recent attacks on women in our neighborhood parks. And guess what just a few simple emails from concerned ladies turned into? A community forum with the local police department and park rangers happening this week. Getting that to happen felt really, really good; one step toward taking down the bad guys, and I didn’t even need to wear a cape — or a skimpy outfit. I can’t wait to see what happens next. Won’t you join me? And there’s no better song to start us on our quest than the lullaby rendition of one of my favorite songs from David Bowie. You know the one.