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Parents raising children today might imagine that superhero obsession is a new problem. But children have long been attracted to superheroes--in the early days of television, it was Superman, and before that children found role models in such folk heroes as Robin Hood and the powerful characters of fairy tales.

Superheroes And Development

Most experts agree that identifying with a superhero is a healthy developmental step. Your child may imagine he's a superhero as a way of feeling powerful when he's afraid. By identifying with the forces of good, your child gets some control over the forces of evil he's beginning to be aware of. Imaginative play lets him flex his independence and bravery in a make-believe world using superhero characters and themes.

Nothing But Superheroes

There are several concerns voiced by parents and teachers when they see a child's extreme interest in a superhero. Some children appear to be obsessed, spending all their time pretending that they're the superhero.

This tendency to live in a superhero world is encouraged by the fact that so many superhero products are available. Your child's life could be overrun by the superhero--his toothbrush, the plate and cup he uses at breakfast, his shirt and sneakers, his backpack and lunch box, toys, pyjamas, sheets, and pillow case. It's up to you to control how much of it ends up in your home.

Superheroes And Violence

Another concern is the violence in many superhero TV shows, videos, or computer games--with no examples of negotiation or compromise. Instead, the bad guys, who often are absolutely evil (and have no redeeming qualities) fight the heroes in battle after battle, until, in the end, the good guys win.

This pattern--and expectation--may become evident in your child's behaviour. If your child plays in a violent manner with his friend, there's a real danger of injury for both children. Set limits and monitor the play so it stays positive.

Setting Reasonable Limits

If your child imitates the TV shows, movies, and computer games he sees rather than making up new situations, you may want to encourage imaginative play by introducing other themes such as, "What does the superhero like to eat?" and "Where does the superhero go to school?"

Some experts feel that violent children's shows should be banned. Others feel there is less danger than parents fear and recommend that parents:

  • Pay close attention to TV and video labeling guidelines
  • Restrict the amount of television your child watches.
  • Watch with your child and discuss the shows to be sure your child understands what is good and what is evil, what is real and what is fantasy.
  • Forbid violent play and offer alternatives and distractions.
  • For children who get completely lost in fictional characters, set up guidelines for when it's not appropriate to pretend (in school, at church, when visiting relatives).
  • Create opportunities for children to know other heroes through reading children's books. Ask a children's librarian or preschool teacher for recommendations.
  • Talk to the parents of your child's friends. A unified approach to dealing with an overdose of superhero play is usually more successful than trying to go it alone.