Skip to main content
Part of complete coverage on
 

Never fear, parents: Superheroes help kids soar

By Henry Hanks, CNN
updated 12:56 PM EDT, Mon April 28, 2014
Gilbert Hanks (son of CNN's Henry Hanks) in suburban Atlanta, Georgia, is one of the many children out there fascinated with superheroes. Thanks in large part to blockbuster movies like "Avengers" and "The Dark Knight" children love to dress as their favorite superheroes. Gilbert Hanks (son of CNN's Henry Hanks) in suburban Atlanta, Georgia, is one of the many children out there fascinated with superheroes. Thanks in large part to blockbuster movies like "Avengers" and "The Dark Knight" children love to dress as their favorite superheroes.
HIDE CAPTION
Kids live out their superhero dreams
Kids live out their superhero dreams
Kids live out their superhero dreams
Kids live out their superhero dreams
Kids live out their superhero dreams
Kids live out their superhero dreams
Kids live out their superhero dreams
Kids live out their superhero dreams
<<
<
1
2
3
4
5
6
7
8
>
>>
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • CNN producer sees superheroes as a positive influence on his three year old son's development
  • An iReporter says Wonder Woman gave her confidence: "She was powerful, beautiful and never broke a sweat!"
  • Superheroes can help build boost self-esteem and inner strength, says a social psychologist

(CNN) -- Two of my eldest son's first words were "Dada" and "Batman." (Or "Batmah," at least.)

That should have clued me in that Gilbert was following in his Dad's footsteps; he was a superhero fan in the making.

Website turns sick kids into superheroes
Batkid, age 5, saves 'Gotham City'
'Burka Avenger' promotes girl power

From dancing and singing to the "Batman" theme song at age 1 to creating his own super-characters from everyday items around him, he's been completely enthralled with superheroes. As he grows up, his superheroes are shaping the person he's becoming.

A fascination with superheroes can benefit a child in many ways, including boosting his self-confidence and making him feel powerful. (And what better day than National Superhero Day, April 28, to celebrate that?)

Gilbert isn't the only example of the positive powers of superhero worship. In some cases, superheroes can teach children how to be strong.

Cynthia Falardeau of Vero Beach, Florida, has also encouraged her son, Wyatt, to explore superheroes for years, because of the way they changed her childhood for the better.

Before she admired Wonder Woman and Princess Leia, Falardeau was bullied by other kids for her first heroic inspiration, Mary Poppins.

"My two oldest brothers and their neighborhood friends squelched my dreams," she said. "Their mockery drove me to find comfort in the arms of my mother."

Her mother encouraged her to pursue a more "daring" character, and soon she discovered Wonder Woman and TV's Bionic Woman.

Wonder Woman gave her confidence: "She was powerful, beautiful and never broke a sweat!"

Even today, she credits these heroes with some of the things she has accomplished in life.

"I have completed four half-ironman races (70.3 miles) in the past two years," she said.

"Each time I envision my success, I think of the Bionic Woman or Wonder Woman, and I feel invincible. When I take that first stroke and glide across the water I am energized."

Now she sees 11-year-old Wyatt finding strength to deal with his problems at school.

"Sometimes Wyatt says that he gets bullied and superheroes give him the confidence to stand up, and tell the teacher," she said.

"One of his favorites is the Incredible Hulk," she said.

" 'I like that Hulk gets angry at the bad guys and he uses kung-fu!' " he told his mother.

The recent "Captain America" movie has made the patriotic hero one of Wyatt's favorites, as well.

When asked by his mother why he likes superheroes so much, he said, "They have super powers, strength, and they are brave. They always do the right things. They battle against evil. Superheroes give you strength!"

Jeff Greenberg, social psychology professor at the University of Arizona, sees this -- superheroes giving strength and power -- as the key to why kids love superheroes.

"We adults forget how vulnerable we all were as young children," he said.

"We were little and lacked the physical size and strength and knowledge to protect ourselves and function effectively on our own," he said. Children first depend on their parents for love and protection. But as they grow up, they start looking to role models who embody the same power and positivity, Greenberg said.

"By identifying with the culture's heroes and superheroes, children can begin to feel like they are aligning with what is good and can develop their own agency, power, and value in the world," he said.

Of course, there are always the classic arguments against kids having an interest in superheroes. They're marketing ploys. They take children out of reality.

Superheroes come with a heaping helping of violence (even if it's usually "cartoon violence"). And there are also concerns that boys are getting the wrong idea, seeing their future selves as either heroes or victims.

Greenberg said these are valid concerns, but he still sees superheroes as the good guys when it comes to their influence on children.

Stay in touch!
Don't miss out on the conversation we're having at CNN Living. Follow us on Twitter and Facebook for the latest stories and tell us what's influencing your life.

The answer isn't to try to control your child's preferences. Greenberg encourages parents to "be a guiding force by sharing their enjoyment of superheroes, and in age appropriate ways." Once children understand that these are fictional characters, they can begin to distinguish between how things work in superhero land and how they work in the real world, he said.

Falardeau said superheroes teach her son good lessons on a smaller scale: "I think he is learning that everyone is capable of being extraordinary."

As my son Gilbert's superhero playtime has evolved, not only has he developed a sense of morality, his inner positivity has also come out. He sees the villains as capable of turning over a new leaf. He describes them as turning good at times.

Gilbert's fascination has not gone without some encouragement on my part. I have been a fan of superheroes ever since Spider-Man taught me how to read on "The Electric Company." It really never left me, from the Batmania of the late '80s and early '90s to the resurgence of superhero cinema with "X-Men" and "Spider-Man," and I've been a comics collector off and on for decades.

As far as I'm concerned, I hope superheroes continue to take Gilbert's imagination up, up and away!

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
updated 8:10 AM EST, Wed November 26, 2014
If it hasn't happened already, it likely will at some point: the moment you don't like one of your child's friends. What do you do?
updated 6:50 AM EST, Tue November 25, 2014
They say the first step to overcoming a problem is realizing you have one in the first place. An online quiz can help you determine whether you are over-reliant on your cell phone.
updated 9:52 AM EST, Mon November 24, 2014
Options for meat substitutes have come a long way since Seth Tibbott's first few Thanksgivings as a vegetarian in the 1970s.
updated 4:12 PM EST, Sat November 22, 2014
Students unhappy with school meals are taking it out on the first lady by sharing images on social media of lunches sarcastically tagged #ThanksMichelleObama.
updated 9:55 PM EST, Sun November 23, 2014
A Louisiana family is fighting to protect its beloved pit bull from a "vicious dogs" ordinance.
updated 5:20 PM EST, Fri November 21, 2014
November is National Adoption Awareness Month. CNN's Michaela Pereira grew up in a family of five adopted girls in Canada and eventually reunited with her biological half-sister.
updated 2:39 PM EST, Thu November 20, 2014
It began for Nickolay Lamm as a question: What would Barbie look like if she had the dimensions of an average woman?
updated 9:16 PM EST, Wed November 19, 2014
Bill Cosby was thought of as a perceptive comedian and genial father figure. Now, that persona pairs with another, much darker image.
updated 12:35 PM EST, Tue November 18, 2014
If you think 'my teen would never sext,' you might be mistaken. Recent studies suggest it's more common than many parents might want to admit.
updated 6:44 AM EST, Fri November 14, 2014
I pictured myself graduating from college, getting a cool job and even having a cute place of my own. Instead, I wake to the early-morning sounds of my family dog barking and my parents making coffee downstairs.
updated 12:38 PM EST, Tue November 18, 2014
Samantha Futerman and Anais Bordier tease, poke and prod each other like they've grown up together, but they didn't. Neither woman knew she had an identical twin sister until less than two years ago.
updated 9:02 AM EST, Thu November 13, 2014
A school district in Maryland has decided to remove all references to religious holidays from its school calendar, leaving some in the community frustrated.
updated 12:06 PM EST, Thu November 13, 2014
Female veterans often have a harder time finding employment than their male counterparts. But why?
updated 3:19 PM EST, Fri November 14, 2014
I simply couldn't believe my eyes. At a children's party this year, I witnessed full-on "mean girl" behavior.
updated 12:24 PM EST, Mon November 10, 2014
Several children were sent to the hospital after being sickened by ingesting detergent pods.
updated 9:46 AM EST, Wed November 12, 2014
There are plenty of times when I literally wish I could take a hammer to the portrayal of girls and women in the media. In a new ad, a little girl gets to do just that.
updated 10:09 AM EST, Sat November 8, 2014
"Playing doctor" and "I'll show you mine if you show me yours" are common rites of passage in childhood sexual behavior, according to the experts.
updated 3:12 PM EST, Thu November 6, 2014
A tech startup claims credit for making Alex from Target go viral, but there's skepticism about how involved it was, if at all.
updated 5:47 PM EST, Tue November 4, 2014
A soft toy for cribs lets babies post pictures of themselves to social media.
updated 11:55 AM EST, Tue November 4, 2014
Schools are increasingly confronting a controversial question: Should they do more to monitor students' online interactions off-campus to keep them safe?
updated 11:56 AM EST, Thu November 6, 2014
The National Toy Hall of Fame recently inducted three new favorites into its hallowed halls. What's your favorite?
updated 10:09 AM EDT, Fri October 31, 2014
We don't know, and may never know, what led to the Washington school shooting, but we have to ask ourselves, following this tragedy, if we are doing enough to help our boys deal with difficult emotions without resorting to violence.
updated 7:01 PM EDT, Wed October 29, 2014
The viral video of a New York woman being catcalled on the street has men asking, "So, what should I do?" The answer starts with respect.
updated 2:40 PM EDT, Thu October 30, 2014
Trick-or-treating and dressing in costume have been Halloween traditions for a good long time now, but it seems we're still struggling to get it right.
updated 4:38 PM EDT, Fri October 31, 2014
Yes, there's actually corn in it. Corn syrup, if that counts.
updated 2:28 PM EDT, Tue October 28, 2014
Walmart found itself sending apology tweet after apology tweet after the Twitterverse raked it over the coals for a major goof on its website.
updated 4:02 PM EDT, Mon October 27, 2014
There aren't too many times when I'm speechless about what I consider an outrageous example of parenting. This is one of those times.
updated 7:57 AM EDT, Mon October 27, 2014
Holy crap, LeVar Burton.
updated 5:38 PM EDT, Fri October 24, 2014
Critics pounced on supermodel Gisele Bundchen for advocating a little mommy "me time" recently. When did it become a crime to admit that you -- as a parent -- put yourself first?
updated 12:21 PM EDT, Fri October 24, 2014
Sally Kohn says a video of little girls dressed as princesses using the F-word very loudly to condemn sexism is provocative. But is it exploitative?
updated 4:27 PM EDT, Fri October 24, 2014
Not again.
updated 12:41 PM EDT, Fri October 24, 2014
"Breaking Bad's" drug-dealing chemistry teacher Walter White will have to stop making the sale at Toys R Us.
updated 4:06 PM EDT, Wed October 22, 2014
I happen to agree with Renee Zellweger that all the chatter about her face is "silly." But I, and many other women I talked with via email Wednesday, would add some other choice words to the mix to describe the non-stop attention about her appearance: nasty, cruel, hurtful, invasive and sexist.
updated 6:06 PM EDT, Tue October 21, 2014
I have long thought millennials, who expect flexibility in the workplace, would be the group that would bring an end to the stigma that is too often associated with flex time -- the belief that wanting a flexible work arrangement means you aren't willing to work as hard. But now I'm thinking it's going to be men who will get us there.
updated 7:40 AM EDT, Wed October 22, 2014
Say it with us: Kids today have it sooooo easy.
updated 2:29 PM EDT, Tue October 21, 2014
An Atlanta judge reportedly reprimanded an immigration attorney for bringing her 4-week-old to court for a hearing -- a hearing she asked the judge to reschedule because she was on her six-week maternity leave.
updated 11:04 AM EST, Tue November 18, 2014
Monica Lewinsky tweeted for the first time. She called herself "patient zero" of cyber-bullying.
updated 3:43 PM EDT, Fri October 17, 2014
Meet Shyanne Roberts, a 10-year-old competitive shooter with something to prove: "Kids and guns don't always mean bad things happen."
updated 9:50 AM EDT, Mon October 20, 2014
strawberry ghosts
We love Halloween season. Sweets. Sweaters. Sipping hot cider (maybe spiked). Halloween can certainly get you in the spirit, and nothing warms our hearts like these healthy Halloween treats that help you stay energized instead of stuck in a sugar coma.
updated 3:23 PM EDT, Fri October 17, 2014
Does your baby cry during long flights, causing you to want to disappear from the glares of fellow passengers?
updated 4:14 PM EST, Thu November 20, 2014
Ask any teen if they suffer from social media anxiety and they would probably tell you no. But the truth is getting "likes" and the fear of missing out are adding stress to teens' lives.
updated 9:13 AM EDT, Thu October 16, 2014
Many photographers have taken it upon themselves to document stillborn and terminal babies' precious moments after birth.
updated 3:46 PM EDT, Tue October 14, 2014
As part of the insurance coverage offered to its female employees, Facebook is paying to freeze their eggs.
updated 2:15 PM EDT, Tue October 14, 2014
Amal Alamuddin was well-known in many important circles long before she snagged the world's most eligible bachelor. But Amal Alamuddin is now Amal Clooney, according to her law firm's website.
updated 12:42 PM EDT, Tue October 14, 2014
Trends in young adult fiction have shifted from wizards to glittering vampires to bloodthirsty "Hunger Games" and now, to teens coping with illnesses and realistic issues.
updated 8:56 PM EDT, Tue October 14, 2014
Before he died this year, 14-year-old Martin Romero wanted to do something for his community.
cnn, parents, parenting, logo
Get the latest kid-related buzz, confessions from imperfect parents and the download on the digital life of families here at CNN Parents.
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT