Superhero Heroics Negatively Influencing Kids

Superhero movies are an essential part of American society nowadays. Children look up to them as role models, the superhero brand is on products everywhere, and they also offer kick-ass movies every year.  Characters like Superman are American icons; people who save the world while upholding values of justice and morality. But a movie about good saving the world from evil does not come without its fair share of action and violence.

Superhero movies are designed to make a huge profit because of the high demand and vast supply of new heroes.  X-Men, Guardians of the Galaxy, and The Avengers are a few of the popular franchises for Marvel and are consistently one of the top Blockbusters every summer. Holding a significant media presence only increases the number of child viewers, thus creating a big opportunity for that group of youth to be influenced.

This is where superhero movies can have a villainous effect on society. The behavior of superheroes is to use their aggression in a way of defense, which can be thought of as a good example. This reasoning led researchers to originally predict,

“Superheroes may be an effective way to teach young children the importance of defending others when they witness bullying”

—Coyne et al. S.M., Stockdale, L., Linder, J.R. 
© Springer Science+Business Media New York 2017

The studies proved a different conclusion than anticipated where modern superhero movies do not set the best example for developing youth. In fact, the authors of the Journal noted preschoolers who watch superhero movies showed more aggressive behavior a year later.

From the journal, “Pow! Boom! Kablam! Effects of Viewing Superhero Programs on Aggressive, Prosocial, and Defending Behaviors in Children,” the article went on to disprove past ideas on the benefits of superhero media on young children. The ideals within the movie plots and characters are represented, but as stated in the journal, “Young children do not have the executive functioning necessary to hold multiple, competing ideas consistently in their working memory.” For example, if a superhero is winning a fight against a villain, there is a good probability the child viewer will only understand the physical aggression and not the defensive aggression.

The market for showdowns between superheroes and villains is only increasing, especially in young children. These movies bring imagination to life and do so in a highly entertaining form with the best sound and visual effects. For a child just starting to become exposed to this genre of film, the impact can make a huge influence on his or her personality.

From The Avengers, the Hulk and Thor are on the same side, but to add a sense of humor, the Hulk punches the crap out of Thor. People all over country probably shared in some giggles watching the scene, but in the grand scheme of things, this is one of many instances when superheroes have a negative influence. As a young child, if I were to relate this relationship to the ones with my friends, I would associate parts of aggression with friendly humor. Instead of inspiring kids to stand up to bullies, a study focusing on preschoolers noted, “Twenty percent of these children associated their favorite superhero with some type of violent skills”.

The values in superhero movies can no doubt be taught to children, either through parents or even schools. Parents can also try and prohibit their young children in watching these movies until they are of a mature age. These possibilities are there, but if kids need to be taught who the hero and who the villain are in the movies, these films are not truly getting their jobs done. The entertainment is there for sure, but the media impact is not steered in a truly positive direction. Personally, I will most definitely continue watching all these movies, but when it comes to the pre-adolescence or adolescence itself, superhero movies do not really teach youth heroics.


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