When I was young I wanted to be Daniel LaRusso. You remember Daniel. Karate Kid. Mr. Miyagi and Johnny. I remember watching Karate Kid with my brother on several occasions. After Daniel wins the tournament at the end of the show, my brother and I would inevitably start practicing karate on each other. We perfected the crane move that Daniel used to beat Johnny at the end. We got so good at karate (or so we thought), that one time I got mad at him for spilling grape juice on my favorite blanket so I punched him as hard as I could in a place where I knew it would hurt. I felt so bad about what I did, so I begged him to hit me back. While I can’t remember if he hit me back or not, I do think this is the first instance that I can recall in which I was directly influenced by media exposure. I was imitating my hero.
Fast forward a couple of decades. A research team led by Dr. Sarah Coyne surveyed parents of children ages 3-6 about their kids’ exposure to superheroes on TV and in the movies, including common superheroes such as Spiderman, Batman, Captain America, and X-Men. Parents also answered questions about their children’s play behaviors. One year later, parents responded to the same questions. The study found that superhero exposure reported in the first survey predicted higher levels of male-stereotyped play (such as play fighting and wrestling) for boys, and playing with toy weapons (guns, swords, etc.) for both girls and boys one year later.
Kids imitate their heroes. Our job as parents to is to help our kids pick the right heroes. I’d suggest not allowing your kids to watch superhero movies (which are usually rated at least PG-13) until they are, well, at least 13. This might mean you become the not-cool parent for a while, but in so doing, you’re becoming the superhero that they actually need.