(And What We Can Do Better)
Okay, look, I cannot be the only parent who sat through Spiderman going, “Tony, you are fucking this up by the numbers,” can I?
So, number one, you need to be trustworthy to your kids to the point where they will feel safe telling you things, whether those things are, “Hey, look, I’m Spiderman,” or “I know where the bad guys who keep stealing alien tech are,” or, “I’m gay,” or “The cool kids are encouraging me to do things I’m not comfortable with and I don’t know how to get out if it without losing face.”Second of all, you need to listen to your kids. If they say, “This is important,” you take the time, especially if it’s your job, HAPPY. Even if it feels like they’re making mountains out of molehills, if you don’t listen to the little stuff, you won’t hear the big stuff.
Third, encourage your kids’ special interests, and if their special interests include vigilante hero work, you stop everything and help redirect them into a path that gives them 100% of the training they need to not get killed, including how to work with a team and law enforcement, TONY. You don’t just shove things at them and expect them to do it and then yell when they mess up because you never told them what was possible.
Fourth, pay attention to warning signs, especially signs of boredom and frustration. Teenagers who are bored and frustrated are much more likely to get into trouble, whether they are typical schoolkids or scientific geniuses bitten by radioactive spiders.
Fifth, help kids stay busy with things that matter to them. That means you have to sit down and talk to them without yelling at them, just casually, a lot, to find out what those things are or at least provide a support structure that will actually keep them safe, busy, and interested.
Sixth, don’t yell at kids for asking for help, or for fucking up when they try to cope with you not being their for them when they do ask for help. That’s just rude.
Seventh, if a kid looks up to you, treat that as a high honor, not your due.
Eight, accept your kids for who and what they are, right now, no matter what, and don’t assume that says anything about who they’ll be next week or next years. You accept them on their terms, and work from there, you don’t just drop them into adult expectations without warning, or treat them like infants until the day you kick ‘em out of their suit.
And last, and probably the most important, you need to provide every kid, superhero or not, with an escape hatch, a safety clause, a no-questions-asked-drop-everything help button, and it needs to not be a tracking device. Give them magic words, like, “Awesome!” or “Jazzed” or something else depending on what would be inconspicuous for them. Things where they go, “Hey, Mom, it would be AWESOME if I could spend the night with my friend Nick,” and you know that if they really wanted to spend the night they would have asked in any other way… so you be the guy who says, “Sorry, kid, gotta be home by 9.”
Or maybe they say, “It would be TOTALLY AWESOME if I could spend the night with my friend Nick,” and you know that means, “Help, this is out of control and I need help right now!”
Or they say, “I’d be really jazzed if I could go to Jeff’s house,” and you know that means not only come pick them up, but maybe bring backup or call emergency services or the Avengers.
Or, you know, if you’re Tony Stark, have a hot button the kid controls completely and you NEVER take it away as punishment. The technology exists, you arrogant pecan. You invented it.