Why Kids Love Superheroes

Eliza Clark
May 29, 2012

Kids' obsessions come and kids' obsessions go, but a few seem here to stay.  Superheroes, for instance.

Anyone who may have thought that superheroes were so 20th century has clearly been proven wrong. If anything, superheroes are bigger than ever these days. The movies keep multiplying!  And if you need any further proof, just take a look at all the backpacks hanging in the cubbies at my daughter's preschool: at least half are adorned with a Batman or Spiderman logo.

The first superhero comic strips were produced during the Great Depression, and Superman himself was depicted as battling Hitler during World War II.  In that moment, superheroes reflected a national need for uplift.  Yet though our historical circumstances have changed, the cultural sway of superheroes has only grown.

So why do superhero stories continue to appeal so strongly?

For young children, the answer seems clear enough.  Each day, as they grow, our kids are discovering their own powers.  Their bodies can do more and more, and likewise their minds.  In comparison to the babies they used to be, preschoolers really do have superpowers.  Once they were helpless babes, but now they can run, jump, and climb!  And yet, young children are also keenly aware of their own relative powerlessness.  And in some cases, they are also learning that their parents' powers are limited too: we can do a lot, but we can't make everything better all the time.

In this developmental context, it's little wonder that superheroes exert such an imaginative pull.  The notion of an ordinary, vulnerable person who can transform at will into a hero with superhuman abilities is endlessly appealing to children whose imaginations are far more powerful than their bodies.  Suspension of disbelief is not, as we know, a problem.  Young kids easily slip in and out of imaginative worlds in which x-ray vision and the power to fly seem completely natural.  Many children also known to invent their own superheroes!  More super-power to them.

As for why adults still fall for superheroes... someone else will have to explain that.


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