When we were kids, Popeye, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, along with the Power Rangers were all the rage, and not just as a part of our role-play activities, when we’d spend hours shooting cobweb from our wrists or pretending to eat pizza in the sewer. It was our escape from the teacher- and parent-ruled reality, a way to impose our independence, to be taken seriously, to be appreciated and to rise above tough situations. Every time I was faced with my dad’s frown or my teacher’s signature stare, I’d wonder, what would Leonardo do?
But now that my role is different, and I still aim to be the superhero dad without being a lame nerd who has spent his youth glorifying Luke Skywalker, I wonder about all the ways we teach our kids the values they try to embody. And finally, do I even stand a chance to be my kids’ superhero when their view of the world is so drastically different from ours?
No matter where you look, whether you’re a fan of DC Comics or Marvel’s intricate web of characters (see what I did there?), we all get goosebumps when we envision ourselves overcoming our archenemies. They may not be the personification of pure evil like Bane or as confusingly disgusting as Krang, but when we confront and defeat our own inner villains, we gain the self-esteem we’d never thought was possible.
The same works for kids. They use their vivid imagination to help them build a can-do mindset, translate it into their daily lives (what would Leo do?) and identify the same quality in themselves in order to overcome an obstacle. Role-plays help them bond with new friends, create imaginary ones when they feel lonely or be the friend they need when there’s no one around to fill the shoes. Now there’s a lesson we could pick up from our little ones.
From my own point of view, superheroes are an excellent way to teach our kids life lessons they need to appreciate sooner or later. You want to be strong and handsome? Eat spinach. Preferably with garlic. This green veggie would never be as delicious if it weren’t for Popeye. But more importantly, as they grow up, kids will look up to you to mimic and adopt certain behavioral patterns, so you cannot expect them to be the superheroes they love unless you do the same.
Being a role model to your youngsters is an honor and a challenge – how you walk, talk and treat others, how often you say thank you, apologize and stand up to those who’ve done you wrong, it all represents a learning pool for your kids. If you want them to believe in Superman, own up to your shortcomings and explain that even he had his kryptonite.
Looking and acting the part
An awkward, rejected teenager such as Peter Parker (aka Spiderman) can still transform into an iconic superhero with the right skills and suit. To my infinite surprise, my kids started staring at me with their mouths wide open when I was preparing for my weekly cycling route. “Dad, your legs look huge!” and “You’re like Captain America now!” were just some of the comments I got.
Apparently, wearing compression clothing and protection gear was for my kids the equivalent of a superhero suit – and it makes perfect sense. These outfits embody the athleticism, strength and masculinity we rarely get to express in our lives, and isn’t this an ingenious way to teach our kids to be physically active and stop staring at screens more often? Let them see you in all facets of life. Including braving it out at the dentist’s and being mighty strong at the gym.
The triumph of good
The scene where Hulk interrupts Loki by opening a can of whoopass (pardon my French) and seals the deal by saying “Puny God” is one of the best possible summations of what a superhero is: impervious to all unjust authority, even if it comes from a deity. And no matter how ugly, green, aggressive or primal Hulk may seem, he uses his strengths to defeat evil, despite his many imperfections.
If there’s a single quality you should teach your kids, it’s to always stand up for good, despite having flaws. They may be too self-conscious for wearing glasses, feel awkward for wearing braces, or they’re the tiniest youngster in their class, but teach them to rise above their seeming imperfections by doing precisely that. Own up to who you are and they’ll follow in your footsteps, because you’ll be their Batman, Superman and Wonder Woman all wrapped up in a single parental package.