By Susan Bartell, Psy.D.

Superheroes: A Teachable Moment


Overhearing my husband tell me he’d woken up at 4:30 one morning to be at his office by 5:30, so he could be home early to help our 14-year old son prepare for a math test the next day, said son, Max, remarked, “Now, that’s a superpower!”

   As someone who struggles to wake up at 7am, I’d have to agree, but I digress. What counts is that Max clearly recognized and valued the quality of a superhero in his father—sacrifice for the greater good—that his dad went to work extra early in order to be home at night for him and his sisters.

   Most present-day, media-created superheroes have few great qualities to share with today’s youth. They are driven primarily by their true power—to produce residual sales in lunchboxes, Halloween costumes, action figures and sweetened cereals. Sports stars, celebrities and other icons are also falling short of being good role models for kids. This leaves you—mom and dad.

   Are you a superhero?  You probably are because parents work hard and often sacrifice to give their kids a better life. And most kids don’t appreciate all we do—which is why we’re always reminding them of it!

   If your children don’t know you are a superhero, it’s time to teach them. More importantly, kids need to personally learn the skills of giving and sacrificing for a greater good. In other words, it’s time to teach your child about how to become a superhero (cape optional).

   You’re already teaching by doing—and role modeling is the most effective form of teaching. But don’t stop there because it’s not enough. Your kids will also learn very effectively by sometimes being asked to make sacrifices. At times parents are afraid to ask their children to sacrifice for the family—but don’t be! For example, ask your teenager to babysit for your younger child so you can have a night out. Paying your older child is up to you, but any grumbling should be met with: “Family members help each other—we sacrifice a lot for you, so you can sacrifice a night of your time for us to go out.” Indeed, this may warrant a longer family discussion about the importance of families working together to take care of one another.

   Sacrifice works for younger kids, too. If an older and younger child share a bedroom, your younger child can be told to give up time in the room for the older sibling to have private time with friends. Complaints should be countered with, “In our family we help one another; we sometimes give up something for the other person. That’s an important way to show we love one another.” There are many ways children can be asked to help the family.

   Sacrifice sounds a lot like compromise in some situations, but in others it’s just “doing the right thing,” even if you have to give up something to make it happen. It’s teaching your child to be respectful to an ostracized child when he may not want to be, or taking extra time to wash out bottles for recycling.  It is crucial for your child’s character development to be on the lookout for situations when you can make this happen. Being a superhero is one thing. Teaching your child to be one will truly change the world to come.

Dr. Susan Bartell is a nationally recognized child, teen and parenting psychologist and award-winning author. Her latest book is Dr. Susan’s Kids-Only Weight Loss Guide: The Parent’s Action Plan for Success. You can learn more about Dr. Bartell at