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How Media Helps Kids Find Their Own Superpowers

Media surrounds us. Social media, advertisements, marketing, streaming platforms; we have unlimited access to almost all media in our pockets. Most of us understand the power of stories and that’s why it can be so overwhelming to know how to navigate it all ourselves, let alone how to help our kids do it. But it’s not all doom and gloom. In fact, the power of media can be used as a positive influence as much as it can be used as a negative one. Using the stories that surround us as a way to teach our children life lessons is one way, we can use that power for good.

It's this idea that has helped me shape the way I see the world. Growing up, I used superheroes and comic books to help me make sense of the world around me. Let me give you an example.

You have literal superpowers. And if you don't think they are super, think again. Some musicians can transport you to new places. Motivational speakers can make you fly. Artists create new worlds of which you never could have dreamt. Some people seem to be able to read your mind. A hug from the right person at the right time can heal any wound. The list goes on and on.

All of us have superpowers that we can use to influence our lives and the lives of those around us. I get that it sounds cheesy! But that is what being child-like means sometimes–it's a sandwich of campy and hopeful with loads of cheese in the middle. And I say, eat up!

If you are ready to embrace the campy and the cheesy, then let me tell you how comic books have helped me reframe my life since childhood. It all starts with the origin story.

It's something we are all familiar with. A nerd named Peter gets bitten by a spider and wakes up with all sorts of extraordinary new abilities. He uses those abilities for his own gain and ignores the bad in the world. That comes back to “bite” him (see what I did there?) when the bad guy he let go ends up killing his uncle. Now Peter understands the responsibility that accompanies these newfound powers. Boom! He is a hero! But let's take this step-by-step.

Step One: Desire

We start with the main character, who wants something. Before powers are given, discovered, or fully understood, the main character, not yet a hero, wants something. Spiderman wants MJ and a sense of belonging and purpose. Batman wants justice for his parents' death. Wonder Woman wants to end war and suffering. Thor wants the throne. Superman (my boy!) wants humanity to embrace its potential.

What do you want? What are the things in your life that you think about daily? The goals, dreams, and aspirations that you can’t seem to take your mind off of?


Step Two: Roadblocks

For some reason, our soon-to-be hero doesn't have the necessary skills to obtain the thing they want. Whether out of a lack of resources, ability, or understanding, something is standing in the way of our main character. A lack of resources–Spider-Man doesn't have the money to buy a car to impress the girl. A lack of ability–Captain America doesn't have the muscles to fight for his country. Or a lack of understanding–Thor doesn't have the patience or wisdom of a true king.

What is in your way? It may be time, experience, apathy, or even your own pessimism. There will always be things in our way, it’s how we overcome those barriers that makes us heroic.

Step Three: Powers

This is when the soon-to-be hero gains their powers.

In comics, you can get your powers in many different ways. They can be given through a bite from a radioactive spider. Sometimes, they are a part of your DNA–brought to life through the power of the sun. They can be developed by training with a secret group of elite ninjas known as the League of Shadows. Or you simply can discover them when you hit puberty. No matter the process, our hero is suddenly equipped with everything they need to obtain what they have been going after. Spider-Man can now enter a wrestling match to make enough money to get the car that will get the girl. Captain America is now a one-man army. Batman is equipped with the skills and understanding he needs to track down the man who murdered his parents.

Have you discovered your superpowers? Some powers you have had since birth. Maybe you have a skill you need to refine until it becomes super. What makes you different than the person next to you?

Step Four: Small Potatoes

This is a hard one. This is when our hero uses their newfound powers for something below their potential. But, this is an essential step to help our hero understand what they are truly capable of. This is Spider-Man entering that wrestling match. Or Batman using his newfound skills to track down Joe Chill. Clark Kent was told, by his parents, that the world was not ready for him. Many parents tell their kid's similar stories to keep them safe. So, Clark grew up using his powers to help his parents around the farm. Is that a good thing? Absolutely. But definitely below his potential. Small potatoes compared to what he could really do.

Many of us can get stuck in this step. The world will try and keep us here, telling us that we aren't capable of more. But even at this stage we hit barriers that can scare us. I mean, if we lose a fight at this stage, what chance will we have when the fights get bigger, right?

Wonder woman

It takes effort, attention, and courage to start to see what we are truly capable of. Take Wonder Woman, for example. Looking at her most recent origin from the 2017 movie, she trains extremely hard until she is ready to be a hero. You could say she took years to "discover" her powers. But as far as she knew, this island of Amazonian women was the world. She didn't know there was a war going on. She didn't know about humanity's faults. She didn't realize just how much she had to offer until an outside force brought her new understanding.

Step Five: Conviction

Now comes the game-changer. When the person becomes the hero. Most of us have this moment. Some people have it multiple times in their lives. Many of us have experienced this moment and have not even realized it. This is the thing that puts a mirror in front of us and asks us if what we want truly matters. This is when the hero establishes what they stand for. This is Peter Parker's uncle getting shot and realizing that with great power, indeed, so does great responsibility follow. This is when Bruce Wayne discovers that if he pulls the trigger of revenge, he becomes exactly the kind of man he is trying to stop, and Batman officially stands for justice. This is Thor finally becoming worthy of his hammer. This is when superpowers are given a direction and purpose is established. The consecration of the superpower.

This is tough for a lot of people. Most people don’t truly know what they stand for and why. It takes self-reflection and mediation. Understanding what your convictions are is a gift. Why do you do the things you do? What do you care about? What impact do you want to have on the world?

Step Six: Alignment

This is the end of the hero's first movie. This is the "What's up danger" moment from Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse. This is when the hero knows what they are capable of, what they need to fight for, and why. Their powers and their beliefs are totally aligned. This is when they go and fight the bad guy at the end of the book or movie. This is the climactic ending. This is when our hero becomes super.

This is just one example of how I have used stories and media as a tool to better myself and form my world view. Media, combined with experience and lessons taught to me by my parents, created countless opportunities for me to better understand the world around me. I genuinely believe we all have an origin story. I use this as a way to understand other people as well as myself. If we are all looking for what will bring us happiness in life, it makes sense that our talents, or "superpowers," need to align with why we fight. What are we capable of, and what do we believe? If we can align those two things, maybe happiness will follow.

This excerpt from Author CJ Lindsey's new book, "Growing Up vs Growing Old: A Battle Only a Superhero Can Win." By day, CJ Lindsey leads strategies for some of the biggest brands and characters in entertainment. By night, he is an educator, public speaker, producer, and podcast host. With an education in Entertainment Business and Media Psychology, CJ has unique expertise and understanding of the impact of media on young minds as they try and find their place in the world. It is his life’s mission to show kids and families how to use media as a tool to help them build healthy relationships, find inspiration, and ultimately create a life full of joy. You can listen to CJ on "The Parent's Guide to What Kids Watch" podcast or during our next Cyberwise Chat: "Building a Resilient Kid: What Parents Need to Know."



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