Matt Langdon, the creator of The Hero Construction Company, an Australian living in America, aims to show young people that by doing little things every day they can become heroes. He has taught workshops in Massachusetts, New York, New Jersey, Kansas, Indiana, California, South Carolina, Michigan and Wisconsin. He's currently working with Dr. Philip Zimbardo et al, Professor Emeritus at Stanford on the study of heroism.
I'm the product of a single parent home.
A couple of years ago I wrote about the importance of roles models for the sons of single mothers. It really hit home that my mum had done a good job of making sure that my natural tendencies to seek out masculine heroes were tempered by exposure to positive women.
While I think my environment (i.e. the lack of a father in the home) subtly guided my choices of heroes, I was pretty typical. For example, I had sports as a focus. But while most of my friends adored the generally brutal footballers, I was more drawn to the elegance and skill in cricket. I loved the Star Wars movies, the Narnia and Tintin books, but I also knew who Simone de Beauvoir was — not a claim any of my friends could make.
Fifteen years after leaving home (and country), I'm talking to kids about heroes for a living.
Ask a child who their hero is and you just saved yourself hours of trying to work out what kind of person they are. It's a personal question with a unique answer. It's also the question that kicks off all my Hero Workshops.
Ready for some generalizations?
Boys answer with sports stars while girls put forward singers and actors. However, the overwhelming source of heroes for kids between 4th and 6th grade is their family. Easily 90% of the answers include parents, grandparents, siblings and dogs. Yes, dogs.
You're probably now asking yourself, “Do my kids consider me a hero?” If they do, do you feel a new sense of responsibility? You're obviously doing a lot of things rights, but how can you embrace this role? How can you be a hero as well as a parent?
I think a lot of parenting today is redirecting. Parents are battling with mass media for a prize, the prize being our children. As parents, we have a number of options. We can take no part in the process, allowing the millions of dollars of research spent by companies to do their job.
We can dictate every exposure our children have, generally prompting them to find their own heroes anyway, keeping them secret.
Or we can be in the middle.
Watch what our kids are watching. Talk to them about who they admire. Show them new options without forcing them. As a parent, we are the ones helping decide whether Britney's underwearless lifestyle is worth aping, or whether Kelly Clarkson's down-to-earth integrity is the way forward.
Many of the movie studios are creating fantastic tools for parents — we just need to use them. Take Up for instance. We can laugh at the talking dogs and imagine what it would be like to make our house float away.
We also can take some time to talk about Up's themes and messages. Pixar has produced a great set of hero movies and should be congratulated.
I'm actually working on developing a movie with the creator of Fraggle Rock to specifically promote everyday heroism. Our goal is to release the movie with a lot of support material for parents and teachers. Imagine these conversations in our children's classrooms. And a whole set of tools to discuss at home.
Heroes are vital to every child.
How can we get the best kind of heroes in front of our children?
More importantly, are we our kids' best kind of hero?
As head of Cultural Enrichment at my children's school, I arranged to have Matt teach The Hero Workshop. Today at graduation, Mr. Eyster, the headmaster, cited the workshop as one of the year's highlights.
Matt has written that ‘it's the little things that people do that make them heroes'. Saren Eyre Loosli, founder of The Power of Moms, talked about the little things, that it's the micro that matters in mothering. You can do the math.
Who are your heroes? I learned a lot about myself when I identified mine. If you asked your children to list theirs, what would you learn about them? And what a great rainy day activity to gather photos from magazines and the internet (or even their personal drawings), making a collage of their heroes.