Superheroes Bad Role Models for Boys

We hear a lot about the messages our little girls are receiving from the shows they watch on television these days.  Their favorite programs feature all manner of bad role models.  A self-centered and bratty girl (Hannah Montana), a lying and conniving girl (Wizards of Waverly Place) and a wealthy and dumb girl (Suite Life on Deck), just to name a few. But what about the boys?  What are they watching and what are they learning from their favorite fictional characters?

According to new research from University of Massachusetts-Boston, our boys aren’t faring much better than our girls when it comes to what they are exposed to through television, books and movies.  Superheroes in particular are giving them bad ideas about what it means to be a man.

After polling 674 boys ages 4 to 18, lead researcher Sharon Lamb, EdD, watched the movies and shows they said were their favorites.  Based on those shows, which included Batman, Ironman, Hulk and Fantastic Four, she determined that boys are learning that there are two ways to be masculine:  Act like a superhero or be a slacker.  Neither of these are good.

The superheroes boys admire show their strength by exerting power over other people, exploiting women, flaunting their wealth and acting sarcastic and superior.  The slackers smoke pot and hate school.  Nice.

Lamb says that although many of these superhero characters have been around forever, they’ve changed over the years.  While they’ve always fought the bad guys, the were less one-dimensional and had lives beyond their crime-fighting personae.  They were, as Lamb says, “real people with real problems and many vulnerabilities.”

As for the slackers, Lamb says that while they may be funny, they send the wrong message to boys about the value of hard work and responsibility.  Could trying to be popular in school by emulating these slackers impact a boy’s academic performance?

Not having any boys, I am not all that familiar with the world of superheroes and slackers.   But if young girls are copying the behavior of the female characters they see on television (and they are), it stands to reason that boys would, too.  Parents of boys, how do you feel about the fictional characters your little men look up to?

Image: Jinx!/Flickr

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