Stephanie Newman Ph.D.

Apologies To Freud

The Truth About Your Son's Fascination with "Star Wars"

Boys love outer-space, while girls prefer "American Idol."

Posted Mar 28, 2011

Instead of proposing marriage to you, your 7-year-old would rather be watching Luke Skywalker save the world.

Little boys can't seem to get enough of "Star Wars," and they are endlessly fascinated with outer space.  Ever wonder why?

I decided to ask the experts. First up: James, a 7-year-old from Upstate New York: "I love Star Wars because it's exciting. There are good guys and bad guys. I like it when the good guys win."
Hearing this, his pal, Teddy, also 7, paused to look up from the structure he was building. Snapping on a warty blue Lego piece, he told me, "The ships race through the universe and sometimes there are explosions, and then my heart beats really fast. When the good spaceships blow up the bad ones, I feel happy."

Such sentiments were echoed by Alexander, an 8-year-old from California: "The violence makes the movie better. My heart goes bump, bump, bump when I watch. It gives me energy."

All those surveyed seemed to agree: space ships, battles, and explosions were a big part of the draw.

But like all hard-charging reporters plumbing the depths of an important story, I wanted to know more about the reasons behind Star Wars' appeal to the Lego set. Was it just the glamour of intergalactic transports, violence, and shuttles--was that really it? Or was there another angle? Determined to find out, I next put the question to Jack, an 8-year-old Boston native. His response went straight to the heart of the matter: "Star Wars is cool!"

So, there it was: starships, explosions, adrenaline, the struggle for good over evil, and of course, the "cool factor."

But what about Jack's ten-year-old sister, Phoebe? What did she think of Star Wars and outer space? Not much, as it turns out. "They're OK, I guess, but I'd rather watch "American Idol." I like to hear the contestants perform, and I enjoy finding out about them and their stories," she told me.

Scorecard: Boys fancy vehicles and explosions. Girls: singing and costumes.

Suddenly it all sounded like something out of Erik Erikson's study of gender differences and children's play: boys like fast moving craft and violent games; girls prefer a good old fashioned reality show--with costumes, make up, and a dyed in the wool singing competition.

But, in reality such gender-based differences are not always so straight-forward. An 8-year-old boy is not equivalent to a 10-year-old girl. Just as individuals differ, their preferences may vary. Similarities do exist, though, and development plays a part and goes a long way towards explaining the male affinity for action, and the female penchant for celebrity and personal drama.

Here's how it works: all kids begin by being wrapped up in family life. Toddlers play house, ape their parents, cuddle babies, and make pretend. They imitate the adults in their orbit, and can often be seen multitasking, "talking on a cell phone," while stirring "a pot of sauce," and emailing on a "blackberry."

Oedipal kids ages 2 through 5 or 6, are caught up in family life and involved in their own intra-psychic family dramas. They are curious about their parents and their bodies, and their curiosity is expressed directly. Their lives revolve around the family in many ways--children of this age have even been known to very sweetly propose marriage to parents. Children of these ages explore the world through play.

All this focus on parent and family changes once kids hit 6 or 7, though. At this stage, children begin to explore the outside world , both physically and emotionally. They temporarily put to rest the earlier preoccupation with their bodies and those of their parents.

"A 7- or 8-year-old boy's main developmental task is to shift his focus from the immediate family to the social surround. In what psychologists often refer to as the 'middle years' of childhood, we see children learning to be in groups (e.g., boy scouts), to play by the rules, and to learn and practice musical instruments. This means the boy has started to identify with his father as someone who functions in the world through his work, as well as within the family." says Dr. Laurie Levinson, a child, adolescent, and adult analyst who is on the faculty of the Institute for Psychoanalytic Education, Affiliated with the NYU School of Medicine.

"While the boy moves from his mom and the home, and begins to identify more and more with his dad and the outside world, he continues to love his mother intensely. He suppresses this Oedipal love and transforms it into another, less overtly sexual, form of curiosity. Now he is fascinated by outer space and heavenly bodies," Dr. Levinson continues.

Viewed this way, interest in space exploration becomes an attempt at self-differentiation in the world, as well as a way of dealing with competitive and aggressive strivings towards parents and siblings-- feelings that originally suffused home life, and now feel too uncomfortable when they ARE too close to home.

In other words, instead of proposing marriage to you, your seven year old is watching Luke Skywalker save the universe. Makes sense when you think about it.