Almost a year ago, I wrote one of my first posts for GeekMom. It was about my then-2-½-year-old son, my sense that he would soon be interested in superheroes, and my worries about how to explain supervillains to him. I wrote:
“… How am I supposed to explain good guys like Superman without getting into the evil-doing, world-destroying bad guys? How do I let him know that these stories depend on bad people trying to hurt other people — and indeed, that this happens in real life, too?”
Commenters on that post had some great suggestions, which I took to heart as I geared up have these “bad guy” conversations with my kiddo. What’s implied in some of those comments, and what seems obvious to me now, is that the best approach to handling this involves “leveling up.” You don’t start with terrifying psychopaths who want to murder innocents or blow up the world, you start with vaguely selfish and easily reformed bad guys who want to “swipe” things or maybe do some occasional hitting. At 3½, my son can handle that.
Handle it? Who am I kidding? He loves it. Playing “bad guys” is now one of his favorite activities, so I’ve spent many an hour practicing my bwah-ha-ha laugh and running off with toys before he swoops in to stop me by shooting a web or using his freeze power. We’ve started reading some of the DC Super Friends and Marvel Super Hero Squad early reader books, and he’s hugely satisfied by the bad-guy-goes-to-jail endings. And he recently drew a picture of himself that included weird lines coming out of his ears and told me the lines were streams of glue shooting out to “stick the bad guys.”
Obviously, he’s thinking a lot about villains, but oddly enough, he hasn’t asked me as much about them as I expected. He seems to understand that a bad guy does selfish or mean things, while we try our best to be helpful and kind, like superheroes. He even developed a superpower that transforms bad guys into good guys who can then help him root out other bad guys to be brought back from the dark side.
As in so many areas of parenting, I guess I was overthinking it. Turns out, villians aren’t so hard to understand, especially in a comforting context where the good guys always win.
2 thoughts on “My Superhero Son vs. The Bad Guys”
Ha! I understand your worry. As the Father of a (now) 7 year old rambunctious boy you echo a lot of what I have already have been through.
Like your son mine was, and still is to a certain extent, entranced by the bad guys, although he always ultimately sides with the good ones. From his first awareness of the dichotomy of good and evil; Thomas the Train vs Diesel 10, to Venom vs Spiderman, to a now surprising (to me) infatuation with Darth Vader vs Luke Skywalker….I suppose this reflects the ever maturing aspect of his understanding of some of the basics in life. Good vs Evil. It’s an aspect in the soul’s development.
I think you may be watching the unfolding of what Joseph Campbell called the Hero’s Journey for your son. The understanding of just how big the world is in all its scarey variations, and how he can comprehend and make himself fit within it. Errrr….I don’t do justice to Joseph Campbell…but basically what you’re watching your son go thru is pretty much what we all go thru….both boys and girls, indeed with men and women, too. The ever unfolding experiences in their life’s journey.
So, with a bit of luck and firm parental guidance they/we come to understand that life’s journey can be quite fun despite the scariness of it. I consider what he (and your son) does practice, with his childhood the practicum for what I hope will be a wise adulthood.
I wish you well.
Thank you, John. I appreciate it. It’s always helpful to see the perspective of parents who are further down the road than I am.
I definitely agree about the power of storytelling to understand and cope with the world and the difficult things in it. I think that’s why I was so anxious about handling it correctly. But that’s the beautiful part — because stories of good and evil are inherently designed to help us grapple with those issues, they don’t really need to be handled as much as I thought. They just work.
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