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A Fascination with Superheroes

How superheroes help kids deal with their insecurities

Sometime around second grade, my Aunt Leslie gave me a gold initial ring. I never told anybody, but when I made a fist and aimed it at the jerk across the playground, a mysterious force flowed from my ring that rendered him harmless. I was Ringboy.

I know, "Ringboy" is a lame name; I just made it up, because Ringboy didn't actually have a name back in the day. (Didn't have much of a costume, either.) But by wearing that ring, a scrawny kid gained a little more security in the scary world. And as everyone knows, that's what superheroes are all about, right?

Well, yes. "You can't minimize that," says Lawrence Rubin, Ph.D., editor of Using Superheroes in Counseling and Play Therapy. "That's part of the appeal of superheroes. It's a big world and kids are just little things."

Even simpler, says Rubin, "superheroes can be very appealing at a sensory level. They wear primary colors, they are fast and stimulating. Kids want speed and color and cool gadgets. Superheroes literally take them on flights of fancy."

More than just security, superheroes also provide an avenue for growth. "Kids are always looking to expand themselves, always exploring their own abilities and possibilities," Rubin says. "As they get older, they begin to entertain abstract ideals like good and bad, strong and weak, justice and fairness. They also begin to identify with and understand the torment of some superheroes, always doing their rescue-the-world thing and then coming back and trying to fit in."

Ringboy's still working on that last bit.

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