Are Superheroes of Today Bad Role Models for Kids?

superhero
This is not a question that a geek mom feels particularly thrilled to ask herself. Because if the answer is yes, then protecting your children by cutting out or limiting superhero exposure is like cutting off an arm. Or a leg. Or your heart. Or something.
But the question is worth asking, if the recent claims of some psychologists are true.
Many child psychologists, with Professor Sharon Lamb from the University of Massachusetts in Boston leading the charge, are accusing the new generation of superheroes, exemplified by The Avengers, and particularly Robert Downey Junior’s playboy millionnaire Iron Man, of being bad role models for young boys.
Lamb claims that characters such as Iron Man are selling adolescent boys ‘a narrow version of masculinity’ and seriously stunting the growth and psychological health of American youth.
I think David Batty put it best in his article featured in The Guardian, “They thwart dastardly supervillains and have saved the world countless times over but macho superheroes now face a determined new foe in the guise of a mild-mannered child psychologist.”
Now if anyone messes with my favorite superheroes, I’m as ready to drop kick them as the next geek, but if what these kiddie shrinks are saying is true, well… I guess it’s worth a look. Check it out:

The Argument Against Superheroes

The argument runs that the quality of superheroes has shifted dramatically in this era. Unlike conventional superheroes such as Superman, who stood for justice, fairness and decency, many professionals maintain that the modern macho superheroes like those found in The Avengers, portray a negative masculinity characterized by “mindless aggression and rampant sexism”.
Lamb, who surveyed 674 boys aged 4 to 18, claimed these “new” superheroes are damaging the social skills of children and teenagers – and even affecting their performance at school.
Says Professor Lamb:
“There is a big difference in the movie superhero of today and the comic book superhero of yesterday. Today’s superhero is too much like an action hero who participates in non-stop violence; he’s aggressive, sarcastic, and rarely speaks to the virtue of doing good for humanity. These men, like Iron Man, exploit women, flaunt bling and convey their manhood with high-powered guns.”
Lamb told the Annual Convention of the American Psychological Association in San Diego, California that adolescent boys were being sold a “narrow version of masculinity” just when they were most vulnerable and trying to forge an identity for themselves, though she did clarify that young boys COULD look up to old-style heroes such as Superman, “because outside of their costumes they were real people with real problems and many vulnerabilities”.
While there are many who dispute this claim, the consensus among child psychologists and the American Psychological Association is that modern movie superheroes are bad role models for boys, and only serve to promote violence and revenge as a way of life.

The Argument For Superheroes

Not all child psychologists share this view of the modern superhero.
As early as 1941 – a mere three years after the first Superman issue hit newsstands – psychologists were publishing articles detailing how a superhero story could assist in a therapist’s ability to treat patients ages 10-12. The superheroes as good role models concept has carried through to the modern day.
Dr. Lawrence Rubin details in his 2006 book Using Superheroes in Counseling and Play Therapy, details firsthand accounts of the positive effects comic book heroes had while treating kids at Bellevue Hospital. Likewise, Josué Cardona, a counselor in North Carolina, after interning at a hospital in New Jersey working with children ages 8-11, decided to launch Geek Therapy, a website about how geek culture is “saving the world.” Cardonna integrates comic book characters – including modern day depictions of The Avengers – into his therapy sessions, which helps his patients express emotions they hadn’t before.
Axel Alonso, Editor-in-Chief at Marvel Comics responds to the “Modern Superheroes Are Bad” issue in an article on Belief.net and it is worth quoting at length:
“Kids need heroes. While parents should be role models for life, superheroes remind a child of the moral compass necessary to navigate a universe fraught with thrills and danger. Superhero comics and films tell stories about human perseverance, about super-powered individuals who rise to impossible challenges. Our readers aren’t rooting for the powers or the costume – they’re rooting for the person inside the tights. With Spider-Man, they’re rooting for the kid from Queens who, when he’s not saving the world, has to scrape to make rent; with Captain America, they’re rooting for the 98-pound weakling who, through the miracle of science, was granted muscles that finally match the size of his heart.
With over 70-plus years of stories in the bank and counting, Marvel Comics is modern mythology, and we’re well aware of the responsibility that comes with it. We take such great pains to portray our characters as the heroes they should be. Our protagonists are models for life: people who rise above their personal baggage and insecurities to face great challenges and do great things.”

My Personal Take On The Issue

So do I think superheroes are good or bad role models? Well, I guess it all depends. No one on this planet is perfect, and so I think it’s okay to have role models with flaws and faults. I mean, the Bible is FULL of role models that had their share of sins and personal problems, and for the past 2000 years the good book has raised up many healthy world changers and psychologically sound individuals.
Soooo.. I guess it all depends on how you, as a parent, help kids to approach and process the whole Iron-Man-as-role-model deal. There are tons of great qualities you can point out to children. “See how he realized his company was corrupt? And he owned up to it and set things right!” “Isn’t that cool how when he was trapped in a cave, he didn’t give up, and kept working to get free and then went on to save people?” So on and so on and so on.
As to the “narrow view of masculinity” that The Avengers supposedly portrays, I think the problem with America today is less that men are being portrayed narrowly, and more than manhood is trying to be eradicated by a bunch of politically correct feminist ideology. But I digress!
I have no problem raising my kids on the comic book classics, though it never hurts to be mindful that kids may be fixating on the WRONG qualities to idolize. (Cool! Tony Stark sleeps with tons of women! MY HERO!)
But with open dialogue, and some parental guidance, I see no reason why American boys should be deprived of the American heroes that have become the heartbeat of our nation for going on a century now. Of all the things to fixate on, I think the “good guys” of comic books is the least of the problems corrupting our youth.

So what do you think? Are superheroes bad role models for young kids? Submit your answer in the poll below and share your thought in the comments!

Are Superheroes of Today Bad Role Models for Kids?
Yes0%
No0%
Maybe0%
Not Sure0%

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Gingi is a photographer, cosplayer, amateur chef, crazy cat lady, anime otaku, bookworm, generic geek, world traveler, conservative Christian, homeschooler, devoted military wife and stay at home new mother of two little girls.

Gingi blogs about anything and everything that is relevant to being a supermom, stay at home wife, homeschooler and geek girl! You can contact her at gingifreeman@gmail.com or via the contact form on her website at www.domesticgeekgirl.com

Gingi Freeman

Gingi is a photographer, cosplayer, amateur chef, crazy cat lady, anime otaku, bookworm, generic geek, world traveler, conservative Christian, homeschooler, devoted military wife and stay at home new mother of two little girls. Gingi blogs about anything and everything that is relevant to being a supermom, stay at home wife, homeschooler and geek girl! You can contact her at gingifreeman@gmail.com or via the contact form on her website at www.domesticgeekgirl.com

19 thoughts on “Are Superheroes of Today Bad Role Models for Kids?

  • 21 March, 2014 at 12:05 pm
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    Great Post! I often over the years have worked through this and similar topics with parents, and with my own children. My take, is that we live in a corrupted world, and unless our children know wrong from right, in my case know scripture and hang out with ” nice” people. We will never change the current of this world but we can live in it and not of it. Pop culture will not take my children, and I hope other parents make sure their children are grounded in what is right and wrong, so they an discern as they walk through some dark places in this world, whatever that may look like..
    TjP
    http://www.dontlabelmykid.com

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    • 21 March, 2014 at 1:33 pm
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      I think you articulated my feelings much better than I did in your comment, haha! Right now it is very easy for me to speculate on what I will and will not do, as my little daughter is just beginning to crawl.. I’m sure things will get much more complicated once she has, ya know, attitude. lol. But I can’t imagine living my life by the moral compass of Scripture and passing that on to my children could be a HARD thing. *knock on wood* Thanks for sharing!

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      • 12 March, 2016 at 5:19 am
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        The world today is so totally opposed to living by biblical guidelines, that even if we try to model for our kids what is right, it seems they always have someone or something yanking at both arms -trying to pull them away. For everything God put in place, there seems to be a counterfeit in this world. Marriage between man and woman, as an example is now seen as just fine by many.

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    • 9 March, 2016 at 5:38 pm
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      I just wonder if there is a need for super heroes if you are a christian. My kid loves all the super heroes in the bible and most importantly the real super hero Jesus!

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      • 5 October, 2016 at 10:25 pm
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        I agree with this statement! I have a hard time with these like this, because we justify a LOT in the name of entertainment and I don’t think God sees it that way. I can see that you can use these things as talking points, and if they come up we should work through them…but how much do we allow, where is that line, where do we start to look different from the world and not allow the excuse boys will be boys…or I grew up with it and I’m fine….or it’s just pretend, make it ok??? If my child was playing pretend and was treating women the way some super heroes do, would that be ok? What if he started actually acting like one, not just the hero part? What if we stood back and thought, I wonder if this attitude I’m dealing with in my child, is because talking through this show isn’t enough (when they see/hear me praising how it’s not that bad)…maybe some of the issues we deal with our children are because we allow non-Christians to be role- models….I don’t know, I just see the negative out weighing the positive. And I disagree with the quote that kids are routing for the guy behind the tights, the teen scraping by rent- they are not, they’re routing for spiderman- the cool part, the exciting part, the adrenaline part, the saving part, the part that makes the girls go crazy…much of which is negative…

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  • 21 March, 2014 at 1:20 pm
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    That’s why I like Captain America! He’s more of the kind of person I would respect, were he real.

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    • 21 March, 2014 at 1:30 pm
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      You know what’s sad is, especially with me being the patriotic dope that I am, I am not super fond of Captain America. I loved him the most in The Avengers, but other than that, I just don’t get all heart racy and root for the good guy like I do with Thor or Iron Man or Spiderman or Green Lantern or The Flash… I dunno! But I would say for sure, he is one of the BEST role models for a kid to look up to!

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      • 29 March, 2014 at 12:43 pm
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        It’s all just a matter of opinion. I don’t really have much of a reason for liking him other than I respect him, which is kind of weird for a fictional character.

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  • 21 March, 2014 at 5:45 pm
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    I like this post! And I can see why some people would think that superheroes aren’t good for kids. There are those few oddball occasions where a kid thinks he (or she) can be a hero and try to fly (or something like that) and get into real trouble, but that’s partly the parents fault and can happen with anything related to sci-fi and fantasy. I mean, a lot of superheros can inspire hope, even from just their backstory. Especially if they are human and were able to get through it. I’m making sense…right?

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    • 24 March, 2014 at 1:59 pm
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      LOL, yeah, you’re making sense! I think one superhero can be an amazing and life changing positive role model to one kid, which being a source of unrealistic expectations and unhealthy fixations for another. So it all depends on the kid and parental oversight, I think…

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      • 24 March, 2014 at 4:10 pm
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        It really does! Everyone’s situation is different.

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  • 22 March, 2014 at 7:22 pm
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    To me, this is more than just a flat “yes” or “no.” I say kids should admire Batman, Superman, Green Lantern, ect. but today, many comic book artists take these characters who have stood for morals and right, and twist them into edgy, morally apathetic anti-heroes, not the justice-loving freedom fighters we think of. Parents need to see what the writers decide to do with the superhero in the story before approving of it, especially with “the new 52,” I believe.

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    • 24 March, 2014 at 2:01 pm
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      Yeah, my husband and I were just talking about this the other day. Too many parents just let their kids watch anything and everything without any real pre-approval from mom and dad. It’s going to be hard for my hubby and I, who love to just pop in for a movie, or put on a show, but it’s going to be a priority for us..

      Reply
  • 25 March, 2014 at 8:30 pm
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    “Since it is so likely that (children) will meet cruel enemies, let them at least have heard of brave knights and heroic courage. Otherwise you are making their destiny not brighter but darker.”

    ― C.S. Lewis

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  • 26 March, 2014 at 2:16 am
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    I do think they still have good qualities. Some better than others. Still nice to know that they want to save the world! lol! Thanks for sharing with Share Your Cup.
    hugs,
    Jann

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  • 3 April, 2014 at 8:15 am
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    So, if Ms Lamb is correct… the Marvel variety ‘superhero’ is not a good role model, because the men act like men? We are wimpifying our boys, making them less aggressive (males work out a pecking order with the help of aggressive behavior). And because the men are men and not the new-agey metrosexual types favored by liberal, academic heterophobes, they are then deemed ‘bad’. The idea that these characterizations are a new thing is a joke. As noted, some of the leading superheros today, have been around for nearly 70 years. The new spin on them may bring in topical aspects, but mostly, they are the same as they were back then. If that makes Tony Stark ‘sexist’, well, DUH! In fact, the majority of characters of any genre would be completely ‘Un-PC’ if viewed through the lens of time. Just because the characters were “MEN” in the old days, and the characters haven’t changed much, they are somehow reading outside the lines. Manly men are too macho, too sexist, too everything for the types who somehow think being male is wrong. These are the same types who think sports are too aggressive, and that gender should not be separated into two groups. No, they want it like Facebook, and have 52 different ‘types’ represented. Boys today need strong, male role models, since too many kids are growing up without a father figure in their lives. They need someone to look up to, and with guidance, these superheroes could be just what they need.

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  • 4 May, 2014 at 2:43 am
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    They can be good role models

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  • 26 March, 2015 at 6:28 pm
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    Most superheroes are liars. They never display their true emotions or intentions. They always lie to protect the alter ego. They are never fully open or accept themselves. The children reading and watching these figures as role models think or get brainwashed into thinking that is the goal.

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  • 12 March, 2016 at 5:23 am
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    Why will people spend thousands on star trek or superman memorabilia, and scream like crazy for them at conventions, but refuse to open their mouth about the only living and true superhero, JC?
    Tj

    Reply

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