by Bec Cavalôt

5 reasons why playing superheroes is good for boys

Superhero child with boxing gloves

Spider and Batman were at my place again this morning. You know, saving the planet and all that good stuff. They only put their world-saving on hold when it was time to re-adopt their secret identities and head off to school and childcare.

My boys are 3 and 6. They have never seen the superhero movies or read the comic books. But they love their superheroes, and not just because they get to wear their undies outside their pants.

Many child psychologists believe it’s the sense of control and power boys get from ‘being’ superheroes that’s the biggest drawcard. They get to conquer the bad guys, be top dog, save the world.

Although the new breed of superhero movies (The Avengers, Batman v Superman) have become more violent, with the heroes displaying some psychologically ‘darker’ characteristics, there are still many benefits to allowing your boys to explore their superhero alter-egos.

Here are 5 reasons why I actively encourage my boys’ superhero obsession.

1. A sense of right and wrong
Channeling a favourite superhero can help boys develop concepts such as right and wrong and good and bad.

OK, sometimes my boys ‘destroy me’ (I’m always the bad guy), but their play opens up an opportunity for important conversations. For instance, we’ll talk about why my ‘bad guy’ might have stolen that LEGO (envy, attention-seeking), talk about giving said ‘bad guy’ the chance to say sorry, and discuss why instant destruction shouldn’t be a superhero’s default solution.

2. Helpfulness
According to a study conducted by the clinical psychologist Robin Rosenberg at Stanford University’s Virtual Human Interaction Lab, possessing superpowers in a virtual world makes people more likely to be helpful in real life. And statements such as “superheroes always help their mums and dads by feeding the cat/setting the table/washing their hands” have so much more power than “feed the cat/set the table/wash your hands”.

3. Empowerment
As Spiderman’s wise Uncle Ben said, “great power comes with great responsibility”. In the ‘real’ world, boys are controlled by parents, teachers, and various adult overlords. Becoming a superhero in their play allows them to feel powerful and in control, and all without resorting to tantrums or adult-directed aggression. In some cases, this feeling of empowerment can even help resolve or reduce boys’ fears and anxieties.

4. Health and wellbeing
As part of superhero play, we often talk about ‘super’ foods and what superheroes would eat to stay strong and healthy. Because they want to be as strong as Superman and as smart as Iron Man, my kids eat spinach (for strength) and fish (for their brains). They also know how important exercise is to superheroes and so getting them out on the bikes is less of a struggle (although it can be a challenge to ride to the shops with a plastic mask slipping over your eyes).

5. Quality family time
It’s much easier for my husband and me to join in with a game we played when we were kids, and dressing up as superheroes ticks that box for both of us. As parents, we’re less likely to engage with a child in a type of play we don’t understand, like Minecraft, than one we get. Of the countless benefits of actually playing with your boys; the most important one is spending time together – the thing our kids say they want the most. By allowing your caped crusaders to rescue you, you’ll become a superhero in their eyes too.

So this weekend, why not embrace the spandex and save the world with your budding super-boys? After all, all the cool kids are doing it.

Brought to you by Brighton Grammar School

Bec Cavalôt is a writer, editor and mum of two boisterous boys. This article is about

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