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Do Superheroes Have a Positive Influence on Young Children?

Superheroes like Batman and Spiderman leaped into American pop culture because of their avowed desire to fight injustice and save the unfortunate. In Batman’s case, this unwavering passion for stamping out crime and bringing criminals to justice began when his parents were murdered by Joe Chill. Many children around the world emulate these superheroes, but a 2017 study published in the Journal of Abnormal Child Psychology found a link between children who look up to superheroes and aggressive behavior. It seems that preschoolers and kindergarteners miss out on the subtle moral lessons of comic book heroes. The study found that they often focus on superhero traits such as “he's big and can punch,” rather than trying to embody altruistic behaviors, such as protecting the weak and standing up to bullies.

The not-so-super side of superheroes:

  • “It appears to be difficult for young children to disentangle aggression and pro-social behavior when they are combined, as is common in the superhero genre,” says Brigham Young University psychologist Sarah Coyne.
  • The study of parents of 240 kindergartners and preschoolers found that kids who were “highly engaged with superheroes were more likely to be physically and relationally aggressive one year later.”
  • But all is not lost, especially if parents interact with their kids and encourage positive behaviors. Benign reactions to superheroes in the vein of “because he is cool and can fly” are something parents can build on.
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