Iron Man seemed to be everywhere — in TV commercials, at Toys "R" Us, in Burger King's kids meals, and consequently, very much on my little boy's mind. But I wasn't about to let my 7-year-old son watch a PG-13 movie about the moral ups and downs of conflicted playboy Tony Stark. An equally troubling film about the steel-clawed X-Man Wolverine was off-limits, too. And my little guy could pretty much forget about The Dark Knight — a far cry from the BIFF!, BAM!, POW! Batman I grew up with.
Considering how aggressively comic book heroes are marketed to children, their big-screen counterparts leave a lot to be desired. And that's too bad. The best mythic supermen help children aspire to nobility, encouraging kids to bravely stare down bigger-than-life challenges. Quality crusaders model teamwork, perseverance, self-sacrifice, and a clear sense of right and wrong. And they look really cool doing it!
Identifying heroic traits
While most superhero flicks today may be inappropriate for young boys, parents can use creative play to meet their child's need for heroes. Ask your child, "What qualities make a hero 'super'?" Explain the value of honesty, bravery, compassion and other virtues. Then create characters from scratch who reflect your ideals. What are their secret identities, and what do they do when not fighting crime?
Draw them in costume. Give them abilities, explain where they came from, and indicate how they might use those gifts for the greater good. Do your heroes have archenemies? Sidekicks? Cool gadgets or vehicles? You can even get into character and share an adventure as the heroes you've created. Run wild as you let your imaginations do the same!
Parents can also periodically remind their children of the real superhero: Jesus Christ. Like the Man of Steel, Jesus walked the earth as a human being, but with superhuman abilities. At the appointed time, He shed His secret identity — a carpenter whose time had "not yet come" (John 2:4) — and began working miracles, displaying amazing spiritual strength and, yes, even seeing through things (including a Samaritan woman in John 4:16-19). Jesus came to rescue humanity. Not by soaring through town in a flashy red cape, but by heroically laying down His life.
Bob Smithouser is a co-author of The One Year Father-Daughter Devotions.