“Sister said I’m not a superhero!”
That was the shout that awoke me at 5:45 the other morning. My 6-year-old son then crawled into bed with me, despondent, because his big sister just doesn’t understand his need for superpowers.
His superpowers change daily, but usually consist of one of the following: super strength, super speed, X-ray vision, and the amorphous ability to save the world and punish bad guys.
Of course, we’d all like to save the world, but, for some reason, this desire is hard-wired into my son, and, I’ve observed, in many other boys around his same age. My daughter likes the idea of superpowers, but is primarily interested in them if they can help her in a concrete fashion—like helping her avoid her chores or helping her see through walls so she can tell whether or not her boy next door might be able to come over and play.
When my son plays with his friends (almost always other boys) they dress up in caped costumes, make “ka-boom” and “zzzztzzz” sound effects, and create intricate, sometimes violent, fantasies pitting good against evil.
When you’re small, not very strong and not able to do many of the tasks that the adults around you accomplish easily, it must be empowering to imagine that you’re a fearless superhero able to overcome any obstacle in your path. When you can’t tie your sneakers, the idea of jumping over a tall building in a single bound must be irresistible.
As someone who grew up with all sisters, I don’t quite get my son’s obsession with superheroes. And I sometimes worry about the whole violence/techno weaponry/beating up bad guy story lines. I also want to make sure that my boy can differentiate between his fantasy world and the real one.
However, as I’ve learned more about superheroes, I’ve realized there are some important lessons my little guy can learn from them:
Superheroes typically have a strong moral code and sense of responsibility. They do good because it’s the right thing to do, without reward or even the expectation of reward (Superman, Spider-Man, Wonder Woman). Typically, they vanquish rather than kill their foes (why those arch-villians keep on coming back). There are exceptions, like Batman, who is personal vendetta dude, but I think after he avenged his parents, he made the decision to keep the work up out of a sense of moral responsibility to Gotham.
Superheroes often maintain secret identities, but only in order to protect their friends and family from the the bad guys. They’re not doing this for glory, and, in fact, having to hide their alter egos from friends can be awkward and frustrating (Lois Lane and Clark Kent).
Superheroes don’t sit around watching TV or playing video games. They are out there, in the community, making the world a better place. To do that they have to stay in tip-top shape.
Even if they work alone (Batman), superheroes have friends, family or a team that supports them (Alfred Pennyworth). Often, they do form alliances or work in teams (Fantastic Four, Justice League).
They typically have a secret hiding place or headquarters where they go to recoup, recover and prepare for the next adventure (the Batcave, Superman’s Fortress of Solitude). Even superheroes need a place to take a time-out and rest.
They get to wear kick-ass costumes that accentuate their work-out enhanced bodies. And, with the exception of the Incredible Hulk, superheroes are almost always well-groomed and they always put on a clean costume if the one they’re wearing gets dirty (or blood-spattered).
As he gets older, and my boy’s superhero obsession wanes, I hope we can take the lessons he’s learned and apply them to real-life heroes—those who don’t necessarily have superpowers or high-end gadgets (or rock-hard abs), but who, like Superman, have a sense of justice and moral responsibility that guides their actions in the world.
Anne Fitten Glenn is a freelance writer based in Asheville. She covers a number of topics (including parenting) on her blog, www.EdgyMama.com.