When my son is pretending to be a superhero, or playing with superhero action figures, his imagination is at its best. And when he’s engaging in superhero play around his friends, or even just a washed-up old dog like me, creativities collide and create something even better.
Let’s get this out of the way; a couple of weeks ago, Hasbro sent me some Iron Man 3 toys to play with: a bigger, motion-activated, talking Arc Strike Iron Man figure, and a couple of Iron Man Assemblers – little action figures whose arms and legs come off so you can mix-and-match them. Also, an Arc FX Gauntlet, which shoots foam discs and will leave a welt at point blank range.
So one day, my son came home from preschool and handed me his Iron Man action figure that he’d brought in for share time. As he handed it over, he told me plainly that there’s no “Iron Man stuff allowed at school.” There had to be a story behind it, I thought. The statement evolved into a shrug and “no superhero stuff,” but we didn’t have much else to go by.
I suspected the real message was more complicated and that (as always) playing telephone with teachers and toddlers always ends up in the message getting confused.
So, while dropping my son off last week, I asked a teacher about it. Turns out, it wasn’t really the “superhero stuff” they were concerned about, but just that they want to be cautious about celebrating guns and weapons. As long as the action figures don’t have weapons, it’s fine. “We try to just focus on the good things the superheroes do,” the teacher told me.
“Like keeping the world safe from villains and international terrorism,” I optimistically reply. Lead balloon.
I get it. Schools want kids to share the stuff that that means something to them – and at their age, superheroes mean something to them. Hell, at my age, superheroes mean something to me. But schools, especially these days, are more wary about celebrating gun violence. It’s not just a world of imaginative cowboys and Indians these days; teachers – for better or worse – have to walk the fine line of letting kids be kids, and being cautious about the complexities of modern society.
Is the school going too far? I don’t think so. Just moments before I heard of the light “superhero ban” at my son’s preschool, I read about a preschool that went viral because they really did ban superhero play. A note allegedly sent home to the parents says that the children’s imaginations “are becoming dangerously overactive causing injuries…”
Also on the chopping block? Wrestling (which sounds fair) and “Monster games,” which has got to be some sort of “there’s got to be a way to not say the word ‘zombie’.”
Look, I’m all for safety. I understand our preschool’s suggestion that I make sure the stuff my kid brings in for his share time doesn’t include guns and other weapons. I even understand this other school wanting to ban wrestling. And to their credit, the school suggested in their letter that parents monitor the media that their kids are watching. That’s the linchpin here, no doubt.
But I’ve seen my son and his classmates play. When we get out of the car in the morning, before they’re even on the yard, other kids run to my son and immediately declare who they are that day. Sometimes, clothing means dibs – when my son’s got a Hulk shirt on, he’s The Hulk. When Charles or Joseph wear Star Wars clothes, they’re Darth Vader for the day.
When my son’s at home, he’s constantly telling me that he’s a superhero and I’m his sidekick. We’re always looking for a bad guy and there’s some imaginative scheme attached to it. At my son’s request, I’ve been Batman, Robin, Aquaman, Captain America, Iron Man and Iron Patriot. Oh, and my son’s favorite supervillain, “Nagmeeto.” What I love about superhero play is that we get to write the stories ourselves – which is great since I don’t want to show my son all of the movies. And hey, when we write the stories, they don’t even need to follow the comics or the movies, (but I still won’t teach my son that Rhodey was the Iron Patriot like in Iron Man 3…that’d just be silly).
These toys that Hasbro sent me – they’re cool. Sure, they’ve got their shortcomings. For example, the Arc Strike Iron Man figure is big and detailed, but has a paltry five total points of articulation (pivoting neck, rotating hands/shoulders). I feel like a heel complaining about this after complaining about a G.I. Joe action figure having too many points of articulation. Karma, right? The Assemblers figures are cool too – the interchangeable arms and legs are more rugged and fun than I thought they’d be (with an imaginative kid who wants to spin stories about why they’re switching and losing arms). I did accidentally break one of the weapon arms by twisting at a weak spot though. No big deal, and some rubber cement actually fixed it for now.
Nevertheless, I’m glad that my son’s preschool hasn’t all-out banned superhero play. I understand wanting to be weapon-conscious these days. And ultimately, it’s up to me as a father to encourage my son’s creative superhero play while drawing an appropriate line. We’ll skip the movies for now and write our own stories with action figures. Maybe even one where it’s okay for Rhodey to be Iron Patriot.