SUBMITTED BY ELLIE MENTAL HEALTH
I think most (if not all) parents and caregivers can relate to the realization that your child enthusiastically embraces a fictional world. As a little one, they fashioned a cape so they could fly like Superwoman, or they brandished a paper towel roll as their light saber. When they grew a little older, they knew the complexities of entire storylines in a way we humble grown-ups could never hope to keep up with (is the Marvel universe ringing a bell for anyone)? For the gamers in the crowd, you may clearly remember a moment when you were playing on the Xbox with your kid and realized in the middle of a space battle that they surpassed your skills. As a self-professed geek, I treasure these moments of play and connection with my child. And as a psychologist and therapist, I see the power of children’s and teens’ engagement with these worlds of fantasy as a tool for mental health and well-being. Here are a few thoughts on how to engage with and support your child through the superhero and geek lenses:
For younger children (three- to five-years-old), talk with them openly about their favorite worlds and characters. Wonder with him about why he chooses to be Anakin Skywalker in his play with friends. Why does she prefer Luigi to Mario? Children love to be approached with curiosity about their perspectives, and this is such an amazing way to connect with them.
With children in elementary school, find opportunities to talk with them on a deeper level about the worlds and characters they are enthusiastic about. Children at these ages are working to understand and manage their tough emotions and thoughts, as well as to empathize with others. When watching a movie with them at home, pause for a minute to talk about a tough choice the hero is making; how is the hero feeling and why, how are others around her feeling, what choices does she make even when it’s a tough situation? What does Yoda teach us about taking a moment to breathe, thinking about the bigger picture, and then choosing to act according with our values?
When talking with middle schoolers, watch for moments to explore their perception of how superheroes or other characters navigate stress, grief, and feeling out of place. Batman particularly teaches about finding meaning in loss. Obi Wan Kenobi is an example of setting important boundaries with others even when it is painful to do. The Flash can resonate with children as an example of seeing time and movement differently from others.
High schoolers (and beyond) are navigating identity exploration – who are they? Who will they become? What do they stand for? And they are doing this amidst a time of tremendous change and uncertainty in our world. Give space for them to channel some of this exploration and precariousness through what I will collectively call geek culture. TV shows (“Stranger Things”), movie sagas (“Harry Potter”, “Star Wars”), comic books (“Wonder Woman”, “X-Men”), and games (Dungeons and Dragons, Zelda) … all of these can help a teen or young adult symbolically explore the nuances of identity, intersectionality, connection, and meaning. Talk with him about what resonates with his viewing, reading, and playing. Sit back and enjoy watching them become their emerging self.
Written By: June Ashley, Ph.D., Licensed Psychologist with Ellie Mental Health
We are Ellie Mental Health, an exciting organization dedicated to changing the culture of mental health, located in the Denver Tech Center adjacent to The Landmark.
We provide therapy to individuals and couples, with group therapy options coming soon! Our therapists are passionate about supporting Veterans and their families (we are a Veteran-owned and operated clinic), children and teens, pregnant people, first responders and health care providers, teachers, those with chronic health concerns, the LGBTQ+ community, neurodiverse folx, and anyone who has experienced trauma, grief, or loss.
We provide therapy that is creative, fun (yes, humor and even laughter can happen in therapy!) and centered around what works best for our clients. We use a proprietary tool called Ellie Match to ensure we find an incredible therapist fit for you. Our therapists provide a variety of therapies and integrate some of what we are most excited about in life — including exercise, dance, art, music, and geekery and other fandoms.
We are strongly committed to practicing culturally responsive and respectful therapies and are dedicated to being allies and advocates for those who have too often experienced otherwise. We provide therapy either in our cozy, beautiful clinic (there’s coffee!) or through a video visit. Call (720) 706-1944 or visit us online to learn more about our therapists, services, payment options, and accepted insurance.
We are welcoming new clients, ages six and older, with no waitlist. We would love to be supportive of you and your family.