Superheroes: Positive Role Models?


We all grew up with superheroes. Maybe we wanted to be Batman, Superman, or Wonder Woman. Are superheroes positive role models for our children?

Bruce Wayne, the man behind the bat, is an independently wealthy millionaire. He has no superpower so to speak. His superhero character comes from having intelligence and strength. He demonstrates to our children that they can achieve something if they put their minds to it.

The downside of Batman is that his initial entrance into the world of superheroes was through revenge (he has been scarred by the death of his parents). If we talk to our children about Batman, however, we can help them realize what a healthy response to death is.

New Scientist magazine claimed that ?Superman is too good a role model.? The Journal of Experimental Social Psychology included an experiment where people were asked to list the qualities of Superman or another famous figure and then sign up for volunteer work. Those who wrote down Superman?s traits were less likely to volunteer. The reason for this, the researchers argue, is that people feel that they can?t live up to Superman.

Superman is a great role model. But it is okay to emphasize with your children the unattainability of Supe?s perfection. He is an alien, after all. And everyone is allowed to have an off day.

Spiderman is a great role model for children because he is a much younger superhero. Spiderman himself is looking for a role model, because he is not sure what to do with his powers. How does his search for a role model go?

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The X-Men
The X-Men are a cohesive unit that works a team. They are wonderful role models for teamwork. Even though they might not agree with each other, (take Cyclops and Wolverine for instance) they still act for the greater good. In that way, they are like a family.

The X-Men provide positive female role models as well, including Storm, a powerful mentor-figure. If you want to talk to your children about X-men, you will need to address Wolverine?s motivations (which aren?t always altruistic) and Jean Gray?s transformation to the Phoenix: how can a good person become a bad person?

Women Superheroes
Sometimes it seems that it is impossible to find positive role models for young girls. There hasn?t been a major Wonder Woman motion picture in the past 5 years, and are our kids really going to want to watch Lynda Carter as Wonder Woman? Elektra was a bust; Catwoman, more so?and she?s not even a superhero, she?s a supervillain!

You can expose your daughters to positive female role models by introducing them to comic books, or novels. Girls choose mostly female role models, but they can also empathize with male role models: a study at the University of British Columbia in Canada showed that 33% of girls will list a man in their role models. On the other hand, only boy in the entire study listed a female role model.

What This Means
In the end, not everyone can be an ideal role model. However, your children can learn from bad superheroes as well as good superheroes (and I don?t mean this in a superhero/supervillain sense: I would say Wolverine is a ?bad? superhero for his temper and self-centeredness). It is up to you to discuss with your children what they watch so they can begin processing the messages found in the media.

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