Superhero

Superhero
A beat up copy of Action Comics Number 1 sells for hundreds of thousands of dollars--if you can find one for sale. In near mint condition, the price is something over three million dollars. A pristine copy of Amazing Fantasy number 15 can be yours for "only" one million. The first appearance of Superman from 1938 is three times more expensive than the first issue of Spider-Man 24 years later, but Spider-Man remains the most collected comic of all time.
The purpose of this newsletter is not to debate the relative merits of these two superheroes. Although if you would like to engage in such a conversation, feel free to stop by this afternoon and be prepared to stay for supper as I have rather a great deal to say on the subject. My question this week is "why?" What is it about Peter Parker that makes him so attractive? Spider-Man is not as strong as Thor; he's not as fast as The Flash; he's not as powerful as Wonder Woman; he is neither as smart nor as rich nor as dark as Batman. Why are there more collectors of Spider-Man comics than any other comic book ever?
I think the attraction resides in the near universal idea of every adolescent that there is more to him--I'm using male pronouns this week--than meets the eye. If only everyone knew my secret, my ability, my compassion, my reason for behaving the way I do, then I would be accepted as the hero I am. But I cannot disclose my true self to a world lacking in understanding. Besides my ailing aunt would have a heart attack if she knew of the dangers I have overcome.
Please. The reason that actual teenagers cannot disclose their secret powers is that they don't have any.  But the overwhelming cogency of their need to fit in is as real as their ability to swing between buildings is not. Adolescents want to be special. They want to be different. They want to be better than the insensitive crowd.
Except of course they are none of those things. The judgment of the world is succinct: your teenager is an adequate student, not up for a Nobel. He is an above average athlete--not headed for the NFL. Simply stated: he's not going to beat up criminals and pal around with Iron Man. Even worse: he is never going to date Gwen Stacey.
Where we have made a tremendous mistake as parents, as a culture, is by telling our kids that they are the best. Because chances are, they really aren't. We should be focusing our attention on the reality of the dream, validating, embracing, allowing them to think that they are extraordinary-in the privacy of their own rooms. During the day, we should acknowledge that they have not been bitten by a radioactive spider.
"A goal without a plan is just a wish" but being told that you are perfect and that you can do anything is a recipe for narcissism and disappointment.
"I always told him he was special," parents lament as if apologizing. The universal misconception is that by not telling your kids that they are wonderful, you have somehow damaged their self-esteem, communicated that they are inadequate.
How about not telling them anything? Both "you're impervious to Kryptonite," AND "you are lower than a snake's belly in a wagon rut," suggest that your opinion is somehow more valid than that of the child in question. Why not just model the behaviors you hope to see in your offspring? In short, stop talking for five minutes. Rather than telling them how great they are, why not go for a walk in the woods together?
Your children know what behaviors are expected by the time they hit preschool. Let them develop their own sense of self. That way your kids learn early on that their actions have consequences, that their behaviors are more important to themselves than to you.
After all, nobody ever had to tell Peter Parker or Jor-El to do the right thing. By giving your kids some silence, you allow them the space to leap tall buildings in a single bound.

One thought on “Superhero

  1. Martin

    David–
    “The reason that actual teenagers cannot disclose their secret powers is that they don’t have any. ”
    Now you have really burst my bubble! How could you?!
    Aaaagh! Too painful. Back to video games to restore my sense of self and greatness!

    Reality bites.

    Keep up the good work. A little sanity can go a long way.
    Thanks.

    Reply

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