Children learn about the world through comparing and contrasting relationships between things. They learn to “be still” when they are told to “stop wiggling.” They learn to “be quiet,” when we ask them to stop “being noisy.” Early on our children learn that a child who picks on another child is a “bully” and that the child who stands up to the bully is a “hero”. This concept is reinforced through scenes in cartoon and movies. In the most recent Spiderman movie, for example, we witness a scene in which Peter Parker stands up for a friend who is being attacked by the school bully. Our children’s first lessons about heroism are often placed in this context—that is, they begin to understand the hero as someone who stands up to the bully—someone who is the opposite of the bully. When our children are exposed to even worse behavior, through cartoons that depict the actions of criminals and villains, their understanding of heroism expands. They learn that heroes not only stand up against bullies—heroes also rescue those in distress and do whatever they can to relieve suffering—whether that be the suffering of an animal or a fellow human being.
Heroes are some of the best role models our children have. What, we might ask, would the world be like without them? A world populated solely by bullies? To answer this question we need travel no further than the online world of our tweens and teens. What we find there is an epidemic of cyberbullying. Many educators find the escalating rate of cyberbullying hard to understand, especially in light of the numerous educational programs designed to address it. The problem however is larger than these programs—the problem is that we, as a society, have failed to recognize the cyberbully’s antithesis: the cyberhero.
The cyberhero is an individual who uses digital technology to help other people, animals, and the environment. Nascent research on the cyberhero archetype indicates that millions of people are using digital technology with the goal of relieving suffering and improving the world. There are a lot of cyberheroes in cyberspace—we just haven’t been properly acknowledging and celebrating their activities as such. The fields of Positive psychology and Humanistic psychology strongly suggest the importance of understanding and promoting the psychological conditions that promote human flourishing. Because our children learn balance through opposition, if we want them to understand the ways they can use the Internet as a positive force in the world then we must help them gain exposure to the cyber incarnation of the hero archetype. As they grow into tweens and teens they will then be empowered to use digital technology as a means of extending heroic behavior across social media and beyond. When confronted with cyberbullying, they will have a psychological blueprint—the cyberhero—and behavioral construct—cyberheroing—through which to act in opposition.
Recent suicides brought on by cyberbullying have increased public awareness of the seriousness of this form of bullying. In order to bring the cyberhero research out of academic journals to the global community, I’ve designed an award-winning interactive game called the Cyberhero League. The game is particularly appropriate for children because they enjoy the “superhero archetype”. In the game, children learn that cyberheroes have characteristics of heroes and superheroes: they are like heroes because their actions help people in the real world; they are like superheroes because the Internet gives them “superpowers” like shape-shifting, speed, and bi-location. Through game play children learn that for cyberheroes, taking action against cyber-bullying is like warming-up before a strenuous work out. After they’ve taken action against cyber-bullying, they go on to tackle global challenges. To continue developing the game I recently launched a crowd-sourced funding campaign. To learn more about getting your family involved or to support the project please visit our campaign. Through the effective use of narrative and multi- media new mythic frameworks such as the cyberhero will more readily become a part of the human psyche.
The entire phenomenal universe is constructed as opposites: light and dark, good and bad, hero and villain. Psychological wellbeing rests on finding a point of balance between these extremes—a point of equilibrium. To find that point within themselves our children need to know and understand that the Internet—that cyberspace—is populated by both cyberbullies and cyberheroes. Through helping them recognize that heroic behavior extends into cyberspace, we can empower the next generation of tweens and teens, helping them make better choices. Readers who want to know more about the cyberhero archetype are referred to the links below. I am currently writing a book on the subject, and welcome your questions and comments.
Klisanin, D. (2012). The Hero and the Internet: Exploring the Emergence of the Cyberhero Archetype. Media Psychology Review.
Klisanin, D. (2012). Introducing the Cybehero. Psychology Today.
Meloan, Steven and Michael (2012) Rise of the Cyberhero. Huffington Post.
Wach, B. (2012). World Meet the Cyberhero, The New Existentialists.
Jayson, S. (2011). Celebrites: Modern heroes or just famous? USA TODAY.