Sometimes, the world is a worrisome place. It can seem that all that is good in the world is outweighed by a threatening thunderstorm of bad, making me wonder what my child would learn from it all. Then, I remember how, at a convention in the recent past, my tiny Jedi used her lightsaber to help a similarly aged friend find the courage to walk past a rather intimidating Dalek. In other words, let me paraphrase the advice given by the mother of Mr. Fred Rogers: the helpers are those who bring hope to dark and scary events. As parents, we have the power to influence what our children will do when others encounter difficult situations.
So, I implore you, read to your child.
Read your child speculative fiction. Show them stories that let them see a world broader than the one we inhabit, so that they might create a future where the best ideas from fiction develop into a better reality. Help them find stories that inspire hope about what they can create when they take their place as one of the shapers of our world.
Read your child science fiction. Let them dream about what planets and cultures humanity could find. As they discover the idea of alien cultures and experiences, help them see how life could be different elsewhere in the galaxy, so that differences at home become less scary. When they discover stories of fantastic technology, encourage them to be inspired by ideas of what other great scientific finds and concepts are just waiting to be discovered in real life. Foster their sense of curiosity, so that new ideas and breakthroughs remain inviting instead of threatening.
Read your child fantasy. Show them how to find magic in the everyday and wonder at the possibilities that could be hiding from all but those in the know. Let them imagine what could be. Give them a flashlight of hope through stories that tell of times when dark threatens light, and when there are always those who are willing to work to turn back the dark. Introduce them to the many heroes of fantasy, and let them find that for every gifted, chosen hero or heroine, there are many who come from the most humble of origins.
Read your child stories of superheroes. Introduce them to the idea that there can be causes out there greater than a single person, and that a team working together, no matter how different its members, provides a force greater than someone working alone. Show them that great deeds can come from surprising challenges, and that winning a fight against someone who wishes ill on others doesn’t always need to come down to punching. Help them find that superheroes come in all flavors of life, and that religion and race don’t stop a hero from doing great things to help those in need.
Read your child history. Make absolutely certain that they learn the real-life stories of those who came before. When they are mature enough, let them find out about the real people who were hurt when empathy failed. Let them be sad and disgusted at the previous failings of humanity, but also let them be inspired by the real, mundane people who were willing to stand and help.
Finally, help them to understand that real heroes have facets of good and bad, and that in order to keep being heroes, they must grow and change in their desires and beliefs. Help them realize that it is what they decide to take from their favorite stories—from science fiction, from fantasy, and from superheroes—that help shape their view of what the world has the potential to be. However, the most important part is that when the need is there for a hero, when the need is there for someone to help, the hero is the person who was there: helping.