It’s not news that children - especially little boys - love superheroes. In the run up to, and during, Halloween it’s been possible to see youngsters dressed up in every flavour of crusader, caped or otherwise.
I have been asking mini-sized Batmen, Supermen, Iron and Spider Men amongst others what it is that they love so much about these characters. Mostly the answers revolve around their various superhuman capabilities and the fact that they are the good guys who can overcome any danger or threat to themselves or humanity as a whole. Behind these words lie the truth of the matter.
There is very little power inherent in being a small child. Our young ones have almost no control over their own lives, being taken hither and thither by grown-ups telling them what to do and how to behave. Mostly they don’t even get to choose what they eat, or what they wear - except for favourite costumes at weekends or on special occasions. No wonder they idealise those who seem so in control, so confident in their own abilities and so untouchable that they can even get away with violent behaviour with next to no negative consequence.
I think there are similar forces at play when it comes to inventors, especially if the smartypants creator is also a child; Jimmy Neutron, Dexter's Laboratory et al. The female equivalent tends to come in more supernatural shades such as Sabrina the Teenage Witch, but also offers the seductive fantasy of having power over others and the ability to fulfil any desire or requirement.
Sometimes we get so wrapped up with getting our children to do exactly what we want them to - usually because we ourselves are having to live up to expectations, whether in the field of teaching or parenting - that we fail to notice how much we are quashing their sense of self, their independence and their self-expression.
If we try to find moments in play or day to day life when we can allow them to exercise some free will, allowing ourselves to bend to that will without argument, we allow them to learn about the consequences of autonomous decision making. This is a vital element of development and one for which you don’t always need a special outfit.
One of my favourite episodes of Star Trek: The Next Generation is when a crew member comes back from some R&R on a distant planet, and brings with them a game.
It’s a computer game that you play via a special pair of glasses, the aim being to use your concentration to deposit virtual spinning discs into randomly appearing cones. It soon becomes apparent that something else is going on, as more sets of the glasses are replicated and the entire crew becomes so obsessed they cease to function, becoming addicted to the endorphin release that the game triggers. Even Captain Picard succumbs - I know! Interestingly it is left to youth, in the shape of Wesley Crusher, to save the day.
Now this might seem a bit rich from someone who writes a blog every month about communication with children and young people, but in this column I’d like to touch on having faith in your own judgement, rather than stressing out about what you read is the correct way to do things.