Ask 5-year-old Enzo Wood what he loves most about the Star Wars series and he'll cheerfully answer: "When Anakin gets burned by lava and turns into Darth Vader. Darth Vader is my favorite." Yikes! Why would a nice kid choose the evil Dark Side leader over good guys Luke Skywalker and Han Solo?
Because he's a normal kid, says Beth Block, an Austin, TX-based child therapist. "We all contain both good and evil," she says. "Most kids are seeking a sense of control over powerful emotions, so they identify with extreme versions of bad guys like Darth Vader, who can represent these feelings."
Yes, it can be a little unsettling when your kid's running around menacing a little brother with a light saber or threatening to "melt" her sister while wearing a witch's hat -- especially when the other kids on the playground are pretending to be firemen or fairies. But kids need to playact their feelings. And, says Block, violence is usually not the main draw. In fact, a California State University study about the appeal of movie monsters found that superhuman strength and intelligence -- two potentially good qualities -- were the top traits that villain-lovers liked in their bad guys. Fans were interested in the monsters' rejection of the rules, rather than their capacity for violence.
Remember, too, that evil never really triumphs in these books and movies. The Wizard of Oz and Star Wars appeal to kids big and small because the Wicked Witch melts and Darth Vader succumbs to the Force. In the end, good always prevails.