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Superheroes Might Not Be Great Role Models, Study Finds

Jaren Wilkey/BYU Photo

Preschool is a time that a lot of kids discover a love for superheroes. They idolize them. But a study from Brigham Young University asks whether or not someone like Batman is a good role model.

Kids are often immersed in superhero culture from a very young age. Sarah Coyne, a professor of Human Development at BYU, says this is especially apparent at movie theaters.


When she and her husband went to see The Avengers, she looked at the row behind them and saw, “A nice Utah family with a bunch of little tiny kids. [Ages] ranging from from 3 to 12.”


Along with movies, there are animated TV shows, toys, and costumes. There are seemingly endless ways superheroes can have a presence in the home.


While this concerns some parents, others welcome it. Many say that superheroes are examples of bravery. They’re defenders.


"Parents are specifically reaching out to the superhero culture for those reasons," says Coyne.


So, Coyne wanted to measure that. In homes with a strong superhero influence are kids more likely to be defenders? Do they stand up to injustice? Or are they just more aggressive from watching all that fighting


For the study she kept track of a group of preschool aged children for a year. And here is what they found:


“Preschool boys and girls who were really into the superhero culture at age 5 were more physically and relationally aggressive one year later," says Coyne.


They were more prone to hit, kick and throw things. Also, they were generally ruder. For example, excluding other kids during playtime. Here's the kicker:


“They were not more likely to be defenders," says Coyne.


They weren’t standing up for other kids. At all. Coyne admits she’s a little disappointed.


While the study does not say that superheroes are the primary cause for childhood aggression, there is a strong correlation. But Coyne recommends parents don’t take it too literally.


“I wouldn’t purge my home of all the toys," says Coyne. "[Or] have a bonfire and throw everything in it.”


Instead, she says, talk with your kids about the good qualities of superheroes. Emphasize that it’s not about strength or muscles. It’s about character.

Lee Hale began listening to KUER while he was teaching English at a Middle School in West Jordan (his one hour commute made for plenty of listening time). Inspired by what he heard he applied for the Kroc Fellowship at NPR headquarters in DC and to his surprise, he got it. Since then he has reported on topics ranging from TSA PreCheck to micro apartments in overcrowded cities to the various ways zoo animals stay cool in the summer heat. But, his primary focus has always been education and he returns to Utah to cover the same schools he was teaching in not long ago. Lee is a graduate of Brigham Young University and is also fascinated with the way religion intersects with the culture and communities of the Beehive State. He hopes to tell stories that accurately reflect the beliefs that Utahns hold dear.
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