The Amazing Adventures of Supergirl! Episode IV: Supergirl Takes on the Politically Correct Preschool

Welcome to our liberal, East Coast, toy gun-free, non-violent home. Where, for some reason, my almost five year-old daughter’s new favorite word seems to be kill. Closely followed by dead.

As in, Ha, I killed you Captain Hook! Now you’re dead!

Or: Let’s play the game where you are the bad guy and I kill you and you are dead.

Or my favorite: If you don’t let me have that glitter pen right now Sage I will KILL YOU.

Now of course this all leads to wonderful discussions about why we don’t tell people that we will kill them, and what dead means, and that hey, shouldn’t we watch a Care Bears video right about now? That Grumpy Bear is so cute when he’s trying not to smile!

It’s actually funny to me that the interest in killing/bad guy/dead is all Thalia’s, my sweet girl whose superhero alter ego is “Flower Girl,” the princess with magical powers from flowers she shoots.

(Sage, who is a bit more in touch with her masculine side, always chooses “Mighty Man.”)

I’ve tried to give my girls a little leeway in acting out the more aggressive fantasy games, keeping in mind that pretty much every boy in the neighborhood does the same. But you know, it doesn’t come easy for me. I admit that sometimes I am quick to squirm when I hear imaginary light saber fighting (Sage’s Luke to Thalia’s Leia) and yell “be careful! Be careful!” wayyyyy too often, even though I know the boys in Thalia’s class do the same with far less parental discomfort.

I guess it’s the old letting boys be boys and letting girls be…I don’t know. Something you can be while wearing a pink skirt and sparkly shoes.

Mea culpa. Sorry, inner feminist.

I watch as every boy on the front lawn of our school at pick-up will snatch a stick off the ground and turn it into a weapon. Not a single parent looks up from their Blackberries. And I’ve tried to learn from that, to desensitize myself a bit from the admittedly jarring vision of chubby-thighed little girls karate chopping each other. So I’m attempting to work against instinct best I can, and let the play fighting and play stabbing and play ninja kicks go on–at least until it gets to the killing part–thinking that I’m doing an okay job as a progressive parent by letting my daughters express that side of themselves too.

Clearly not everyone is on board with this, however.

Last month during a family visit, my brother and his wife (who I like–so no in-law jokes, you rabble-rousers) became visibly uncomfortable watching my girls play Super Hero with their girls, what with all the dead-killing-bad guy stuff. I figured at first it was that instinct thing: girls + “YOU’RE DEAD!” = no-no.

But instead they informed me that their own preschool had in fact banned Super Hero dramatic play altogether.

Banned Super Heroes.

I was floored.

I’m no childhood development expert (oh, trust me on that one) but it seems to me that acting out these hero/villain archetypes is developmentally appropriate at four and five, and that to disallow it is stifling something very natural–and maybe even important. Isn’t that an effective way for kids learn about morality? And good versus bad? To say nothing of the essential skill of keeping your cape from getting closed in the car door.

I asked my brother whether the super hero games at their school couldn’t just have more rules, so that kids weren’t allowed to touch or hit. But the school’s stance seems to be that no, all super hero dramatic play always leads to someone getting hurt, so it’s forbidden as a matter of policy.

And I thought wow. Just wow. Decades of tradition of kids playing Superman, Lone Ranger, Davey Crocket, Wonderwoman… gone.

Is the culture so violent now that we can’t stomach even fake bad-guy-nabbing? Are we smart to nip pretend lasso-ing and laser gun-ing in the bud? Are we all just absurdly sensitive and overprotective and over PC and smothering our children with fear? Or maybe I’m just lucky, coming at it from the perspective of someone with children who don’t actually ever hurt anyone.

I’m kind of wondering what the heck is going on here.


76 thoughts on “The Amazing Adventures of Supergirl! Episode IV: Supergirl Takes on the Politically Correct Preschool”

  1. What? No superheroes? Aren't the Wonder Pets superheroes? What about Team Umi Zumi? Don't they all spring into action to 'save the day'? Just like Superman? Mighty Mouse? Granted, I have two boys and not two girls, so dramatic action hero play is pretty much all I see. I can't imagine stifling their imaginations. They usually both want to be the good guy, but occassionally like to act out being the bad guy. I'm no psychotherapist, but it seems healthy to act this out, rather than let it be reality.

    And some schools don't let kids play dodge ball, or chase each other. What about Freeze Tag? Next they'll ban Red Rover.

    So, are they encouraging kids to be idle, sit and play video games and get fat?

    I'm getting mixed messages.

  2. I think it's now up to us as parents to keep pretend play/super heroes/ imaginary friends/faeries/ the belief in unicorns and that animals talk when we're not around – alive. I encourage it, I personally don't like toys that look like actual real-life weapons but we have plenty of sticks, Legos that turn into guns, lightsabers, etc etc. Bandanas are used to be both brave cowboys and bad guy robbers. What are we teaching our kids if they never learn to have CONFLICT in their lives?

    Above all, I observe my kids' play with each other and neighbor kids. The most important thing I guide and remind them to be is respectful, not hurtful, and how to be appropriate. Words do more harm than a costume or toy “weapon”. (in my opinion)


  3. Maybe they banned superheroes because kids were practicing levitation and magnetic force fields?

    When my daughter was 5, she made a list of friends TO KILL and TO NOT KILL. Once I got over the trauma of the split infinitive, I showed it to the school shrink and she assured me that it was perfectly normal. She's 11 now, and great news! No more hit lists!

  4. No, no, no, that's not right. What do the kids at that preschool PLAY then? House? Is it PC house, where the “dad” pitches in 50% of the housework? Can the kids play Disney movies with fairy princesses and princes and evil witches/warlocks?

    I fail to see how banning a common (even, perhaps, needed) play dynamic helps children.

    My younger daughter has a complete super hero identity (named Tuma, with blue hair and a yellow coat) that she calls up when she needs her. My older daughter, admittedly, has used the same kinds of lines as yours: Let's play Bugs Bunny, and I'll be Elmer Fudd, and shoot you dead. And sticks are everything from swords and guns to digging tools for finding worms. And it doesn't cross my mind to stop any of that (although I ask them not to hit each other, and to not run with sticks).

    But banning a whole type of pretend play seems completely out of touch with who and what children and childhood are about. If my preschool tried something like this, I'd go talk to someone about it.

  5. No superheroes!? What is the world coming to? I have two boys and they only time they play together without really fighting is when they're pretend fighting as ninja turtles (masks, sai and nunchuk courtesy of my brother) and Batman/Ironman.

    Personally, I have two sisters and two brothers and a million cousins. Growing up we played Ninja Turtles and X-Men all day long. It kept us active and we had to work together to plot against the villains. To this day, those are still some of our best memories.

    When my kid finally goes to school, are they going to be allowed to play anything? Will slides be too dangerous by then?

  6. I agree with Steph 100%. Superhero and good guy/villain play is normal and serves a purpose. It lets kids work out the idea of good and evil, wrong vs right, winning vs losing, while it's still “safe” to do so. All this over-protectiveness comes at a cost.

    Also, just so you know, I was equally uncomfortable with my little boys playing “dead” and “kill” and “shoot” which they all started doing at very young ages even though I thought they had been shielded from such notions. I now allow some types of toy guns in the house (mostly the bright yellow kind that look nothing like real guns) but the kids really get into swords and enact elaborate, violent and bloody swordfights on the living-room rug, in the backyard, pretty much everywhere they go. I just try to turn off my inner, cringing mom and look the other way. Because you know, I can recall playing a few games of Laser Tag when I was a kid, and there was really nothing more fun in the world than “killing” my big brother.

  7. I think superhero play is as natural to children as it is to play house, store, school-or whatever other imaginary game they invent. I encourage imaginative games because, let's be frank here, I don't think kids nowadays know how to occupy themselves without a Wii or Game Boy or “structured activity.” Like all the rest of us fogey's-I remember spending all day playing Charlie's Angels or Wonderwoman.

    I have two daughters though, and there hasn't been much aggressive play in our home. I don't allow the words kill or dead in their play, and I'm anti-gun. (full on knowing that most little boys will fashion a gun out of whatever they can find!)

    I think though, playing Devil's Advocate here, that we are all discussing this as parents who supervise and guide. Unfortunately, as an Early Childhood Educator, I come across children under 5 years old who are allowed to watch all manner of violence clearly not designed for their age group. They are coming at “imaginary” superhero or “good guy/bad guy” play from a completely different spectrum of knowledge. Their parents are nonchalent, at best, about their viewing and subsequent aggression. It could be those children, who have taken superhero play to a whole new level, that prompted the ban.

  8. That is not only insane, but sets the children up for numerous problems in the future. Having my own issues with violent expression from my son (and finally giving into buying a water gun, which my son promptly used to fire away at our Buddha statue), I read “The Trouble With Boys” by Peg Tyre. She argues, very convincingly, that such fantasy play is essential for our kids. And sadly much of these absurd restrictions stem from Columbine. I suggest you give it a read. I would never stand for that nonsense at preschool or any school. We must STOP THE INSANITY!!!

  9. No toy guns here, no swords either. But a few light sabers and plenty of wands. Cracks me up to hear them shouting spells at each other – in Harry Potter-esque British accents, no less.

    As far as superhero stuff goes, I think I'm doomed. My 13yo daughter is a Marvel Maniac and though my 2yo son can't even say his own name clearly, she's taught him to identify Deadpool, Spiderman, Hulk, and more.

  10. I have to admit I like hearing that “kill” and “dead” are as commonly used words in your home, as in ours, which I guess goes to show that not all parents of boys are as comfortable with this play acting as you might think.

    Enjoying the discussion!

  11. Restricting imaginative play in any kind of concrete way is bad news. Yes, there must be boundaries, but (super)heroes are important for kids. I feel sad for the children at that preschool.

  12. First, let me just say, I can totally empathize. Let me also assure you that this is non-gender-specific. My son is the same age as your daughter (give or take a few months…he's over 4 and under 5) and he has recently been interested in the “dead”, “dying”, “kill” thing. He is the sweetest boy I know. (Of course I'm biased, but even his teachers say so.) He is gentle, sweet, and loving. His sister is the rowdy one, pushing toddlers around even though she is half their size. (at 17 months, you'd think she belongs in the infant class as small as she is, but she sure holds her own)

    Anyway, let me share an anecdote with you. My husband's mom (awesome…I love my in-laws) is very anti-gun/anti-violence. (ok, who isn't anti-violence? But I digress…) She did not allow any weapons in the house when the kids were growing up. No toy guns or swords. My husband says he had a cap gun once (which someone else gave him) but was never allowed to get caps for it.

    Both my husband and his brother have grown up to work in professions that allow them, nay, require them, to use firearms.

    Neither of them are violent people, but the ban on violence and weapons did not make a difference in the end.

    Anyway, banning things doesn't keep children from learning about them or pretending about them. It just means kids will have to find another way to express whatever has been banned. No play guns or whatever in the house? A stick will do just fine.

    I'm not saying you don't have the right to ban things in your home. Of course you do, and it does make a good impression on the children.

    I'm just saying that these stages are totally normal. And kids will work their way through real life whether we want them to or not.

  13. Pleaaaseee!! Give me a break!! I believe, us, parents, grew up in a way more violent environment, we all played super-heroes with swords and guns that were not even friendly looking… So far, so good, I haven't killed anyone, neither I know of any friend from childhood getting someone's eye out.
    I believe in emotional education, teaching our kids how to deal with their emotions by letting them interact with their own nature. Banning “super-hero” playing in Pre-K??? Are we creating a pretend world for these children in which they'll never have to deal with conflict or save anyone?
    So sorry, but maybe those children will be the ones to explode badly in the future, just because they we never trained to deal with reality. Good and bad, black and white, opposites, that's life!! Is it too much to ask these teachers to get involved and set clearly the rules and limits of the game??

  14. I agree – the good guy/bad guy stuff, villains vs heros/heroines is healthy and natural (that's short for all the psychological mumbo-jumbo).

    I'm really not a fan of toy guns, though we did recently buy some water guns, which I, along with my red eye, am regretting.

    But I'm not against that, actually.

    Oddly enough, upon complaining that my kid was watching Scooby Doo (and his vampire girlfriends that sleep in coffins) but would not have been able to watch Power Rangers, which were banned from the good Catholic school where she goes.

    What sucks most, I think, is that when you take away all the super heroes, what sort of pretend are you left with? Not much for boys, that's for sure (not that they can't play princesses) and it limits girls to just that (which bothers me too).

    Plus, if we ban all that pretend play, how would we educate our kids about gun safety (heh)?

  15. Um… “Craptastic” comes to mind. (I have every intention of playing superhero, throwing snowballs, climbing trees and building forts with my kids.) Eugh.

  16. This isn't a gender specific concern. My son, who's three, got water guns for his birthday. I was firmly in the “no toy guns” camp, but now what do I do? He LOVES them. I nearly had a heart attack when I heard my husband making “pow pow” and “bang bang” noises in the backyard while they were playing with them. He asked, sarcastically, if I would prefer if he say “splash splash.” The answer is, of course, yes but I fear I'm going too far.

  17. Just another ancedote: My SIL & her husband are very liberal, anti-gun people, and didn't want their son to have toy guns. One day, my BIL-IL mentioned that his son proceeded to make a “gun” out of a pop-tart and shoot him with it at breakfast. So ban or not, children find ways to express these things. I think guidance is key.

  18. I planned on being a liberal no toy gun, no violence house. Then I had three kids of the penis having variety. And that went out the window as soon as the first kid bit his Eggo waffle into the shape of a gun and said BANG BANG. How the hell did he learn that! I only let him watch very limited PBS shows. Well it seems it's just part of the package (pun intended).
    I still talk to them about guns being dangerous, what dead really means, and when and were there are inappropriate times for this kind of play.
    We live in a time of PC overkill. My kids school banned HUGGING. Freaking A they arent allow to HUG their friends! You know because 5 year olds worry about sexual harassment.
    Guns are bad. Yes. But Kids have been playing cowboys and Indians for a VERY long time. I see no harm in pretend play. Of course I prob just offended someone by saying cowboys and Indians, I should just stop now…

  19. Pop Tart and Eggo guns! That kills me!

    (proverbially speaking of course)

    And @GrayMatters – Lots of Wall Street types at my school. Me, I'm an iPhone gal through and through.

  20. I grew up in a very peaceful house chock full of guns. Yes, they were were kept locked up and my dad taught me to be respectful of the guns. He was very gentle but very clear on the matter. It still makes me sad that folks who don't understand guns want to ban even the toy guns.

    My son has toy guns, we discuss what real guns can be used for (rather, what they *should* be used for – shooting animals, not people)

    It is sad that instead of confronting all of this topics head-on, too much of our society wants to simply ban the topics and then pretend that natural proclivities towards weapons do not exist.

  21. I know someone who taped over a drawing of a gun in her sons' Curious George book. I'm sure that did the trick.

    You know what freaks me out? My daughter (who is four) and her friends all chase around a boy at school who they call “handsome” and try to harass him into marrying them.

    This is a girl whose dad has read superhero comic books to her every night since she was two. We TRIED to cultivate superhero behavior, and we got princess nonsense. This parenting thing is confusing.

  22. There are some kids, little kids, who watch/play some pretty violent crap out there, and my guess is that the teachers are seeing behavior from these kids that concerns them. There are kids who play video games where they shoot a guy's head off and the guy just pops up again in the next frame, & they may have a warped view of what is acceptable in play.

    I won't get into it here, but I've had a couple of experiences with aggressive play turning ugly. I'm totally ok with the kids playing “superheroes” (or more oddly, “hobo” among my kids' friends) when I'm around, but that's b/c I can intervene when things get out of hand. Maybe the teachers in that other preschool don't feel like they can intervene fast enough to keep from things getting ugly.

    (Marinka's grammar comment made my day too)

  23. Wow. Just, wow.

    I cringe at the death talk myself, but both of my girls have engaged in it, right around that same age.

    With Oliver, I can only imagine what I'm in for once he starts his pretend play monologue (to accompany his already boyishly violent actions).

  24. Ugh, this mixed with Linda's (Sundry's) account of kindergarten these days and I'm getting nervous about sending my kid to school in a few years.

    I hate how instead of communicating with our kids, we're now just doing away with anything that can lead to a slightly uncomfortable situation.

    Not talking about things is way more dangerous than a little make-believe and I really wish as parents, as a culture, as educators, we weren't so quick to say no to everything and instead spent a little more time just straight talking to our kids.

  25. My 3.5-year-old daughter is in a church preschool and has learned about superheroes from the boys in her class. She uses their names as curse words when she's mad! We'll tell her that she can't do something she wants to do, and she'll yell “Superman, Spiderman, Batman!” and run to her room and slam the door. It's hilarious.

    Fantasy play is so important for kids, and as long as parents are paying attention and setting boundaries, I think it's totally healthy.

  26. My daughter's preschool teacher had a wonderful solution to the inevitable desire to play guns. She allowed it with so many rules that it sucked all the joy out of it and they usually quickly found something else to do. What the kids could do was play “target practice.” There was a designated tree and they could only use their finger and could only aim for the tree. I think they even had to shoot from a certain spot. While standing still. Target practice was obviously not very popular. I think I saw it being played once in the 4 years i worked there.

  27. Just have to comment about the boy/violent thing.

    Girls can be just as violent as boys, folks.

    My daughter is the rough-houser of the two kids. She's a petite, fairy-like toddler, still not turned around in her carseat because of the 20 pound limit, and smaller than most of the kids in the infant B room. Yet she pushes kids around (meaning I am constantly apologizing for her), grabs their food (not learned in our house, I promise!), and generally being a little hooligan.

    My son is the one taking care of his baby dolls and playing quietly with the Little People toys.

    It's not a gender thing. It's a personality thing.

  28. My four year old daughter was worn, almost exclusively, a batman or dath vader costume since last september. She plays superhero CONSTANTLY with the 4 year old neighbor boy and no one ever gets hurt. what a sad state of affairs at that preschool. personally, i'd switch schools.

  29. That is just wrong. It would make me change schools. No guns is one thing, but no playing super heroes? I'd bet the same people who thought that one up, go home at night and watch CSI: On the moon, once their kids are in bed.

    We took away Halloween from most schools. We took away Valentine's day from most schools. Art, music, recess and P.E. are severely lacking. Now we can't even let them play super heroes?

    Childhood gets shorter and shorter these days and it's just sad. I'd really like to think my grandchildren won't have to get jobs at 10 years old, but what else is there, if we take away everything fun about being a kid?

  30. Sigh. One more thing? My girls went through that phase. The gun, bang, you are dead, bad guy phase. It had a lot to do with who they were playing with at preschool. Both have mostly moved on from it. I think if you can let them do it, while still reiterating that guns aren't toys, they will be fine.

  31. My comment is going to be a little different so I'll apologize in advance for my different view.

    I am from Wyoming, not just Wyoming but a town where hunting is as prevalent as the wind.

    My kids had/have toy guns. Mostly Nerf guns. They don't watch violent TV or play violent video games but I don't discourage their imaginative play in any way. I never limit it because I feel limiting it sends the wrong message. Instead of limiting their play we encourage safe play. Don't shoot people or animals with the Nerf guns, etc… my son is 10 and taking hunter's safety next month. He already knows most of what they'll teach him because as he played with those toy guns for years, we were able to sneak some gun safety lessons in there.

    Not quite the same thing, but I feel quite strongly that there's a life lesson in everything your kids do or don't do. You just have to know where to find it and how to use it and if you limit their play you sure won't be able to grasp those lessons that we learned from our parents the same way they learned it from theirs.

    Banning superheroes is just ridiculous in my opinion, my child would not be in that school. The problem is when they ban superheroes they're going to find they have banned other things they don't want to have to deal with. Halloween, physical contact (e.g. handshakes and hugging), Valentine's Day, etc… I personally think it's not about being PC and harboring a “safe environment” so much as it is just lazy. They don't want to deal with your kid being a kid so they'll ban all things kid and then complain when your kid is bored and unruly at school.

  32. Steph, you never have to apologize for having different points of views here. Respectful disagreement is always welcome – and generally enlightening.

    Welcome Wyoming!

  33. This is se-we-us!

    A school near us outlawed tag at recess because it encourages rough touching. Um…

    We are also an anti-gun, limited video game household, but all it takes is other kids at preschool. Lucas came home playing Star Wars with a stick, and he's never seen it. But that's no worse than pirates, in my book, since there is such a thing as real pirates…

    His friends play superhero all the time. In fact, they all stack up their hands and yell “Go Superteam!” and then run off like they are flying somewhere.

    One day he said he was “killing” someone, so I asked about it. He replied, “It's OK. He's a bad guy.” Then I spewed a whole monologue about how bad guys have mommies, too, who love them and would miss them and maybe you could help him become a good guy rather than labeling him as bad and…

    And then I realized how ridiculous I would sound to other parents. What to do…

  34. That is so sad. Banning SuperHero play? I love listening to my boys act out being “good guys” trying to save the day. We do the same routine – explain kill/dead – but ignoring something or banning it doesn't teach.

    And seriously my boys use their sister's SCARF as a sword. Ban away, you're not going to stop the imagination…

  35. I've had just about enough of the schools taking things away and not replacing them with anything….like I don't know…supervision!!!! They take away all the games that kids naturally play for fear that they'll hurt themselves, the school boards forbid teachers from watching the playground for more than 40 minutes A WEEK. You know what happens next? Bullying. Children are mean and if left to their own devices they turn to pack animals who pick off the “weaker” of the pack one by one until that poor kid shoots himself at home one day because he/she can't take one more day of teasing. Yeah, superhero games are the problem here. How about some good old fashioned supervision?? How about someone there to say “Put the sticks down and use imagination only”, “Be careful” or the like.
    That's my rant and if there was a way to fight the school union I'd be first in line. As it is I'm researching home schooling!!

  36. I have a 4.5 yo son, and we have encouraged superhero play precisely because the distinctions between “good” and “evil” are so clear. We're atheists, so in our house the line goes something like “What Would Superman Do?” And it really works.

    My son's preschool also encourages superheroes, except that they have banned Power Rangers. When I asked why, the Director told me that the kids normally will see Superhero animations, but the Power Rangers were real people, and that she had seen it really make a difference. I thought it was an interesting point.

  37. Banning superhero games is just about the stupidest childhood rule I've ever heard. Working out the good vs. bad (and eventually learning about the gray) is the whole purpose of childhood. Where exactly are those girls going to school?

  38. It's the same jacked up thinking that has us replacing fairy tales with more PC versions or stories.

    In a world where there are actual bad guys is it not better for our children to hear tales and act out stories with heroes in them and bad guys that can be defeated and overcome by virtue and perseverance than remove all mention of them at all?

    It seems to me that to do anything else is a deluded form of wishful thinking.

    Rather than tell my children not to play fighting games, which happen all the time, I remind them that it is the job of the strong to protect the weak and take care of others.

    Because the world needs more heroes.

  39. My youngest (she's 8) had a friend over and I sent them into the backyard to play.

    I'm fearless like that.

    Anyhow, the next day, said friend's mom approached me in the school parking lot:

    “My daughter said that she and your daughter picked flowers and made clothes…for the fairies.”

    My smile faltered when I noticed, you know, that she wasn't smiling.

    In fact, I would probably have the same look on “my” face, if you told me, oh, I dunno, that our daughters were caught smoking weed behind the swimming pool.

    Sad to think that my child is being criticized, judge, whatever, for still believing in fairies…at 8.

    Your kids can play with my kids, anytime!

  40. Kids need play to make sense of their worlds. Especially at this age, when they are just realizing there is both good and bad in the world, and probably feeling pretty helpless against the bad. It seems to me that playing superheroes gives these little guys (and girls) a sense of control, like if they can take down an evil villian then someone must be able to protect them from the aspects of the world that are not all sunshine and bubbles.

  41. Suspending all vestiges of PC and respect…

    Banned superhero play? That's stupid.

    It's a necessary part of development and they are stunting kids' social, communication, perspective taking, connecting, critical thinking, and taking on challenges development, not to mention creative and free play plus imagination.

    As far as pretend bad guy/good guy kill dead play goes — so long as we don't really shoot at, hit, touch or otherwise aim or make contact with another person's body or harass someone who said no, it's JUST PLAYING.

    And you know me.

    So that's saying something.

  42. I wonder how parent — or minority quantity of squeaky wheel parent — motivated and directed that decision was. I could name a (my POV only) crazy mom who would be into this kind of thing. She does this — my daughter was a “victim.”

    I think we need to, as parents, let schools set realistic expectations and tell us no, get your crazy train off and down the track. Sometimes.

    Some parents cater too much to kids and some schools cater too much to (some) parents.

  43. I don't have kids but in EVERY SINGLE DISNEY MOVIE I've ever watched there is a “good guy” and a “bad guy” and the bad guy always manages to meet some sort of untimely demise. Seems like if every kid who was exposed to hero/villain play turned into a sociopath we'd ALL be walking around criminally insane.

  44. Such a great conversation. I have struggled so much with this lately. My son has been obsessed lately with this kind of talk and play, and it's been so hard to take. I feel so much more normal now!

    Thank you for starting the conversation.

  45. Wow, that's unbelievable. It is sad that kids are now being censored and can't even play make-believe without getting into trouble or having it banned or having other parents raise an eyebrow. Superhero/fairy play is completely normal and to think that kids are being restricted in terms of their imagination is very sad.

  46. Wow. Literally just last night I was having a conversation with my husband about allowing our son in a few years to play with toy guns. I am just not comfortable with that given today's times. But Super Heroes in general? What the deuce? I am in total agreement. How else other than pretend play will they learn about good vs. evil? And how do you avoid Super Heroes altogether? They are everywhere…and even are truly modern day people. I'm scared about where we are going, scared we've gone too far over the edge. Hopefully parents like us and your readers can bring it back around to something that's realistic.

  47. A friend passed along the following gem, sent by the room parent at her daughter's school. (Her email to me was titled “Fun Free.”)

    Halloween is a fun holiday for many families but because the costumes can sometimes be frightening for little kids, it will not be celebrated in the school. Please do not send your child to school in a costume for Halloween. Also please note that [school name] is a candy-free school.

    I mean, really? OK, so the candy thing I'll allow. And I can stomach a religious objection to Halloween, but “because the costumes can sometimes be frightening”?

    It's all gotten insane. I feel like I grew up on the wild frontier. And I grew up in 1970s Long Island.

  48. Imaginative play is so important for children. I think it helps them with vocabulary, working with other children, and even enhances their own self concept.
    Even if you don't allow toy weapons, they will turn sticks into swords.. you can use that opportunity to talk to them about right and wrong, and the dangers of real guns. If they are telling their friends they will “kill them”, they will soon find the result of their words when that friend doesn't want to play anymore.
    Some parents need to let go, just a little bit.

  49. @CleverTitleTK

    We got that very same letter (minus the candy part). Although I understand that ours is a preschool and there are two year-olds who are freaked out by masks. I'm okay with that at that age…

    but I wish then that the school would just say “wear costumes with no masks.” Or “we're going to have cowboy day for Halloween” or…something? Something besides no costumes?

    But then, I lurve Halloween. I'm biased.

  50. In short,super heroes- sure; toy guns – absolutely no.

    My 4 y.o. son can't get enough super heroes, though he rarely watches them on tv; it's just play-acting at school with his friends and colouring pictures of them that he enjoys.

  51. Steph, Amen sister! I live in Montana, and we have at least a dozen guns in our house (locked in a gun safe) and a great number of animal horns to prove those guns have been used! But we are careful about keeping “gun play” appropriate. No aiming at people or the dog being the big rule.
    As far as super-hero play (or regular hero play like cops and robbers, cowboys and cattle rustlers, etc), I'm with most of the rest of you. It's a necessary part of growth and development, allowing kids to explore the concepts of good and evil in a healthy way.
    That said, I do feel bad for the school administrators who likely have to make sweeping decisions that affect all the children based on situations that arise because of one or two problem kids (which are more likely problem families).

  52. Honestly, these kinds of things make me sad for everyone involved. As an elementary teacher, my inclination is to sit down with the kids and together come up with guidelines that we all agree to in order to make whatever game it is fun (tag, superheroes, whatever). It's too bad that the school didn't feel they could do that, because I agree with pretty much everyone here that this is a necessary part of social and emotional development.

    On the other hand, parents typically don't have to deal that much with large groups of small children or with irate parents who all have different ideas and belief systems and often believe that they know better than the teachers do about almost everything. I agree with the Melanie who said that it's likely due to some problem kids/families. It's also likely that the schools and teachers are worn out from trying to deal with problems, let the kids be kids, etc. only to have parents scream at them no matter what their decisions are (“You don't allow superhero games? What kind of idiot school are you?” vs. “You allowed your students to pretend to kill each other? What kind of idiot school are you?”)

    It's much harder being in this situation than parents want to think, and it's a lot easier to think that we teachers are overly PC or stifling imagination or stupid than to give us the benefit of the doubt that we are doing our best on a daily basis to make decisions that work for most or all of the people who “live” together at the school every day.

    (I know, I know, some teachers and schools *are* stupid, but giving the benefit of the doubt or pausing to hear the other side or offering your child's teacher or school some other suggestions can be more helpful than immediately throwing stones.)

  53. In my drafts, I have a post I'm working on about how I'm actually using the idea of superheros to teach my 3 yo daughter about right and wrong, especially in the sense of sticking up for those littler and protecting others. This idea popped in my head directly after seeing her getting “picked on” (i.e. bullied) by three other kids, one of whom told me they were kicking her because she is little like a baby (crap, it's still hard to write/talk about that incident!).

    Anyway, her favorite movie is The Incredibles, and I have found a ton of teachable moments using the idea of super heroes standing up for others, just like @Carrien said.

    Banning superhero play? BAH! I encourage it!

  54. P.S. Wasn't in any way implying that you were just immediately critical, Liz. Just talking about parents in general. The way you approached it has fostered this great conversation, so thanks.

  55. I have to agree with the commenter that said it is a matter of personalities. I have one boy child who is shoot 'em up, knock em' down wild. His twin brother is drive circles around 'em and I'll beat you to the next doorway. My girl on the other hand is rough and tumble and yet can't stand to be bumped or the crocodile tears start pouring.

    I don't ban gun play but they aren't allowed to shoot at each other or their sister. She just thinks they are a teether right now.

    I think its important for kids to see that good/evil difference. I am big about helping others and my kids are usually the first ones with a hug and a kind word when someone gets hurt. They'll give you their last M&M but they still run through the house shooting the doorknobs off the doors. What can you do?

  56. No good verses evil? No inner struggle with your own morality?

    GEEZ. The next thing you know and they'll be taking “LOST” off the air.

    Uh, wait a minute…

  57. At my liberal elementary school, way back in 1980, we couldn't play the then-popular kid-game “Smear the Queer.” Actually, we played the game, but we re-named it “Kill the Man With the Ball.” That was politically correct for 1980. This still makes me laugh.

    And it gives me hope: kids will always find ways around shallow political-correctness, just as we did. I'll bet your nieces are playing superhero things, just under a different name.

    The deeper stuff, the demand that we treat each other with respect, that's harder to teach or to evade, but that's not the kind of stupid shallow pc-ness we're talking about here.

  58. Thanks so much for sharing your POV Jessica. You make excellent points and I have no doubt that they have LOTS of parental input informing the decision.

    I doubt it was made in haste; even if I disagree with it I'm sure they have their reasons. Thanks for shedding light on some of the possibilities.

  59. I recently was told a story of someone who's two young boys were caught biting their peanut butter sandwiches into the shapes of guns so that they could play gun-related games.

    That's right – they were so desperate to play gun games, yet had no gun toys, that they bit their freaking sandwiches into guns.

    Kids will find a way to play what they think is fun. If those were my boys I'd still have no toy guns in the house, but I don't think I'd try to stop them from playing with sandwich guns!

  60. Good Lord, if they did this at my younger daughter's kindergarten (not sure of the US system – she's just 6 and will be in the equivalent of 1st grade next year), my daughter would die (pun intended). She spends half her life “believing” she's Tinkerbell (that's her feminine, girly side) and the other half “believing” she's Zorro (not Banderas, but the 1960s (?) TV series with Guy Williams)… She LOVES these games and, to my knowledge, has never hurt/been hurt whilst playing… Seems a bit much to ban this kind of thing…
    The only thing they've banned is marbles because they keep rolling down the storm drains…

  61. I grew up playing cowboys and Indians and I turned out OK. My kids make guns out of Legos, Tinker-toys and anything else they can. They know the difference between right and wrong and I'm cool with how they play as long as they aren't hurting anybody and I tell them never to aim a gun at a person.

    In regards to playing with sticks, my friend's 15 year old was hit in the eye with a stick this weekend, had emergency eye surgery today and won't know for a few weeks or up to 3 months if he'll regain vision in that eye. Please make them put the sticks down!

  62. In my house, superheroes are my answer to the Disney effing Princesses. Because, you know Wonder Woman is both a princess and a Super Hero. I bet they let them still play princess… Talk about messed up role models. Who cares about good and bad, the prince will save me…


  63. I'm also no child development expert, but based on the reading I've done this kind of play is important. It gives kids a safe way to make sense of violence. Which, sadly, is a fact of life. If they're able to act it out in play, it actually helps them resolve their issues, and in no way leads to violent behaviour later on. Just the opposite, in fact.

  64. I am surprised at all the outrage about the school banning super hero play. Things today aren't like they used to be. Our children, at a very young age, are exposed to violence, through heinous video games, and kids nowadays watch violence in movies that our parents wouldn't have allowed. We have to come up with different ways to deal with/explain violence. I am not saying its right to ban superhero play, just that it's something to think about.

  65. Thanks for the in put Anon 1:21, but I think the reaction (although there isn't a lot of outrage here – more like annoyance or bewilderment) isn't about limiting exposure to violence, but the modeling of good/bad archetypes in developmentally healthy ways.

    I agree that there's a lot more exposure to violence – as would my mom, who is an educator. But in this particular case we're talking 3 and 4 year olds from wealthy communities. I'm not sure the degree to which they're all playing Doom just yet.

  66. I have to say that, for the most part, schools are banning things because there is always too often a parent complaining, bringing lawsuits, or generally wreaking havoc over ridiculous things like children playing superheroes.

    There is a huge problem in our society when something as healthy as superhero play is banned in schools, yet there is such a resistance to healthy foods in school and a lack of quality education in many states. Really, this is what we need to be worried about?

    I am probably as liberal as they come. I don't like guns. I really limit what they are exposed to in regards to tv and movies. They still dabble in play violence. It's normal and important for them to work out what is acceptable and what is not in the real world.

  67. Uh, yeah. Maybe I wasn't thrilled when my son asked, “Mommy? How do you spell 'gun'?”, but I also feel that this is pretty normal developmental stuff.

    But then, I was holding a gun when he asked me.

    No. Not really.

  68. I have 2 boys and 1 girl and they are all well into the violent descriptions during play. I can picture the parents on their Blackberries ignoring the Lord of the Flies Re-enactment, but I don't think it doesn't bother them, they've just been worn down. I spent years reinforcing the positive play, not allowing guns or sword toys, and where did it get me? They just used fingers, or sticks, or anything that somewhat resembled a weapon. I no longer stop them (within reason) because a) I now feel it is normal and harmless b) I don't want to show my lack of control in stopping them! As they get older, you tend not to over-think it as much. If everything is banned, children won't have a safe way to work things out for themselves and I suspect more problems in adult life rather than more peaceful people in the world.

  69. I thought of this post this morning, when my daughter picked out her Wonder Woman shirt to wear to pre-school. I wonder if the schools that ban super hero play also ban super hero t-shirts.

    @Amelia Sprout – As my daughter was putting on her shirt this morning, she said, “Hey, she's wearing a crown.” So I got to explain that Wonder Woman is also a princess (Princess Diana). It blew her little mind!

  70. Jack told me today I'm a super hero. He attends a daycare that is very consious of the “guns, dead, kill, fight” words and actions. But he still sees me as his super hero. So I think, guess what…. we are ok and the world continues to be a good place.

  71. I'm a little late on the discussion here and perhaps coming from a slightly different perspective.

    My husband is a hunter and recently gave our kids (3 and 5) a chance to view and learn about his rifle, the very rifle that is instrumental in bringing meat to our family – meat that the kids love and take part in butchering.

    I am way more comfortable with my son playing with lego guns than my daughter becoming besotted with Disney-style princesses.

    Super-heroes, however, I'm not so keen on bringing into their consciousness. I'd rather they take on characters of their own design, and the break down of “good guys” and “bad guys” makes me uncomfortable, when really there are so many more shades of grey.

    Thank you as always Liz for your wonderful, thoughtful, well-written posts!

  72. Superheroes are banned from my sons' school, as well. We are in TX, outside of Austin. The kids were getting to crazy and super hero play always ended in someone getting hurt.

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