As the mother of both a boy and a girl, I find that I walk a fine line in our society. I disagree with the emasculation of boys and find it ridiculous how so many boys are not permitted to play in ways that come naturally to them. I disagree with the sexualization of girls and find it dangerous how many girls are encouraged to find self-worth in their appearances.
Both of my children are fans of Marvel, enjoying the comic books, movies, cartoons, costumes, and action figures of Spiderman, X-Men, and Avengers. Many of their favorite superheroes and villains haven’t been cast into the movies and they’ve both been known to school children twice their age about the Marvel universe. I take a lot of pride in their passion and encourage them in any way I can.
That said, sometimes I find myself struggling with the messages and themes in many comic books, cartoons, and movies. One character who is most obviously a struggle is Ironman.
Genius, billionaire, playboy, pilantropist. That about sums it up.
Genius is of course something we love. We want our children to value intelligence and “outside the box” thought processes. We encourage our children to challenge themselves and live up to their full potential.
Billionaire. Well, take it or leave it. I realize most people in our society value excess wealth but I’m not one of them. So long as they have enough to put a roof over their heads and food in their bellies, without worry of debt, hunger, or homelessness, then I’ll consider it enough.
Pilantropist. Count this right up there with genius. No one is going to argue that being a pilantropist is a bad thing! Of course we want to encourage our children to care about the welfare of others, to do what they can to make the world a better place for those around them.
But playboy. There’s where things get derailed.
Don’t get me wrong, I value sex. I believe that humans are sexual beings. I hope that one day, when they are grown up, my children will have fulfilling sex lives. But life is about more than just sex. And people are more than just sexual objects.
You wouldn’t get that message from Tony Stark hoping in and out of bed with beautiful women, making hiring decisions based on a woman’s appearance, making unsolicited commentary on women’s bodies, etc..
I don’t want to deny my children the inspiration that is Ironman, so I find myself pre-watching and pre-reading. Saving what is too mature for them to consume at a later date, and preparing my conversations on the good and the bad for the things they consume now. Tony Stark has often been the catalyst for a conversation about sex or alcohol.
Recently, I’ve even begun telling LittleMan about Robert Downey Jr, the actor who plays Ironman in the Marvel movies. Like Tony Stark, RDJ isn’t perfect. He’s generally seen as a good guy, cracks a lot of jokes in his interviews and on his public social media profiles, , donates to charities and there are a number of stories about his kindness to strangers floating around online. He also has a history of addiction and illegal activity. RDJ is a wonderful example of how a person can make mistakes, take a dangerous path, and still turn their life around, still do good in the world. This is an important message for any child, but especially for the child of an addict.
Putting aside mature content of Ironman media, children love and are inspired by his inventions. If you’re looking for a character to encourage STEM learning in your child, Ironman is one of the best. He’s right up there with Antman, Mr. Fantastic, and Bruce Banner- all brilliant scientists.
Thankfully, there are many ways we can encourage our children to be more like Ironman in terms of inventing.
We can give them hands-on STEM toys, like Electronic Snap Circuits.
We can create a tinkering station for them.
For a growing list of ideas to encourage your children, I love Planet Smarty Pant’s For Future Engineers Pinterest board.
This post has been part of The ABCs of Raising Well-Rounded Geeklings series.