An Interview with Co-Founder + CEO, Jason Mayden on the Bond Play Creates Between Heroes and Guardians
A significant bond is created between an adult and a child during play. You can see it develop before your eyes. It’s magical. It’s transformational. It’s innate to who we are as humans. Our CEO + Co-Founder, Jason Mayden is constantly inspired by his children, so we asked him how play has had an impact on his own relationship with them, and to share some of the core characteristics young Heroes can adopt from their parents.
How do you spend time playing with your children?
During play with my children, we typically use a lot of make-believe elements. This means that we pretend and use roleplay. We go outside and use objects to modify the world around us, and we use our imagination when we spend time together. Play is a catalyst for magical moments of wonder and delight. One of the things that we currently enjoy doing is to use the playground structure as a transformative environment, where it is no longer just a playground, but a space shuttle, a ship floating through the ocean, or the back of a dragon dipping in and out of pools of lava. The playground becomes whatever we imagine it to be, and in that magic my children and I tend to engage in role play. In those moments, I’m not their father anymore, I’m a participant in the narrative.
What do you view as a parent’s role during playtime?
Some of us have creative parents, some of us have theatrical parents, some of us have very intellectual parents and some of us have athletic parents. All those characteristics define how we engage in and understand interaction during play. When kids see a parent striving, when they see a parent displaying joy, when they see a parent being strategic and agile, those are the immediate indicators of their initial understanding of their potential. So, it’s important for us to think deeply about these bonds. As a father, I think about the bonds through the lens of creating memories. My role is to create memories that are full of wonder, joy and laughter.
Why is bonding through play so important?
The bonding that occurs through play is not only mental, but its spiritual and emotional too. Children can only become what they see, and we care so deeply about the bonds that we create, because they are the fundamental foundation of the memories we leave behind.
MENTAL BONDS — Mental bonds can be described simply as “memories.” According to Melissa Welch-Ross, Ph.D. and assistant research professor of psychology at Georgia State University in Atlanta, “After age 5, children make a crucial memory transition by realizing that they have to do something active to help them remember.” Play helps to establish those correlated experiences of memories and activities in which the parental figure is the catalyst for engagement and interaction.
SPIRITUAL BONDS — Researchers have found a deep connection between persistence and experiential based learning experiences like play, and that they are critical to childhood development.
Involvement in play stimulates a child’s drive for exploration and discovery. This motivates the child to gain mastery over their environment, promoting focus and concentration. It also enables the child to engage in the flexible and higher-level thinking processes deemed essential for the 21st century learner. These include inquiry processes of problem solving, analyzing, evaluating, applying knowledge and creativity.
We believe that these core attributes significantly contribute to the “spirit of persistence and strength” that is highly regarded as a sought after soft-skill in early childhood education.
EMOTIONAL BONDS — The amplifying ingredient that changes and deepens the bond between a child and a parent is the present feeling of attention and acceptance. In this busy world, we often retreat to the comfort of our smartphones, which have effectively put a wall between children and parents. This often leads children to feel that they have to compete for the attention and affection of their parents.
Being fully engaged in the play experience with our children allows them to know that they are a priority and worthy of our attention. We work hard to provide a life for them that is better than our own, so one can imagine the long-term effects of the missed opportunities for relationship building with our children. The beckoning of persistent emails and a 24/7 work culture has taken over our collective conscious as a society, so we can and must lead with love and purpose, especially when actively pursuing a relationship with our children through play.
Another reason why we believe that spontaneous active-play is a core mechanism for enhancing our bond with our children is that it’s non-competitive. Activities like sports and academics often have a measurable outcome, which inherently biases how we drive a dialogue with our little ones. What parent doesn’t want their child to be an all-star in school AND on the field? However, this could potentially limit their exposure and anchor our expectations of who they are holistically. Active spontaneous play is a wonderful gift that has no required outcome, although it can enhance overall development significantly.
Varying the ways in which we communicate and support our children’s development is not a new desire, however there is a new urgent call to action. One that is being led by a generation of parents who desperately want to share “how we played” with our children.
Our pride and love for our children should not be measured on a sliding scale of physical and academic ability. To love a child is to love unconditionally, with fullness and certainty that who they are as people is enough to warrant love and adoration from their parents.
What was your favorite physical activity or game to play as a child?
When I was a child, my favorite activity was to ride my bike. It gave me a sense of independence and freedom. It forged a spirit of adventure and exploration that has yet to cease. Navigating the Southside of Chicago on my black and yellow Huffy, which often felt like a Ducati 1199 Panigale in my mind, expanded the walls of my world. This new found freedom and confidence was shared amongst my friends, and riding our bikes and discovering our neighborhood became an obsession every summer.
Growing up, what was your favorite physical activity or game to play with your parents?
Growing up we had a weekend ritual of going around the city looking for the best pickup basketball games to watch and participate in, followed by a trip to the playground to have foot races, pull up competitions and just pure active play. On our way home we would stop and pick up a bag of Chicago style popcorn and watch reruns of Adam West’s classic version of Batman. Each moment was an immersive intersection of play, self-enhancement, creativity and discovery. Our moments were filled with dialogues and debates about who was better, Dr. J or Michael Jordan, Batman or Superman, Cheddar or Carmel popcorn, and the list goes on. We bonded as a family during those moments and despite our lack of material wealth, we had all that we needed. We were rich in spirit and well fed with unconditional love.
You mention that there are character traits (i.e. superpowers) either shared, or passed down between a parent and child that can be discovered and developed through play. What traits do you share with your parents that you can attribute to play?
The traits that were passed along to me from my parents during play drive a vast majority of how I show up in the world today. Fearlessness, unbounded imagination and limitless joy were all present during those precious moments. Navigating the landscape of our neighborhood playground with my parents provided a platform to discover, test and hone those attributes consistently. I did not know it at the time, but those memories are the fuel that encourages us to persist forward with our mission, to stand and advocate for the voiceless, and to enjoy every single moment we have with the ones we love.
What traits do you hope to pass on to your kids?
My greatest desire is to raise a strong and confident daughter, and a discerning and empathic son. So much of today’s challenges require a great amount of resolve. Do we advocate for what is right or do we sit by the wayside and remain silent in the face of adversity? It’s something that all of us have to learn to balance. However, as a father, I seek to expand the boundaries of my children’s ability to believe in themselves in hopes of them using their privilege to serve others.
We often expose them to “controlled adversity.” This is best shown in how we use thematic play to alter our reality and push towards our goals. Riding a bike turns into trying to outrun a cheetah, or running and jumping on a playground structure becomes a delicate balance of agility and determination to avoid touching the wood chips, or as we call it, “lava.”
It is in these moments that my children learn who they are and discover who they want to be. Play is a fully immersive experience in our world. As funny as it sounds, play is serious business in the Mayden household.
During my journey of being a working dad, I have often felt guilty for not being able to be there for every precious moment of my children’s upbringing. I try my best to reclaim my lost joy by deeply engaging in conversation and creativity with my son and daughter during our private moments on the playground.
My greatest accomplishment in life will not be the economic outcome of Super Heroic, it will be the lessons I empart on my children from the experience I gain from building Super Heroic. A divine mission and purpose formed in the image of a company.
I want them to see me as a servant of humanity. A man with flaws and insecurities that has decided to abandon the hurt of my past and replace it with the hope and joy of my present. I want them to fully love who they are becoming, because play teaches us all that we can always strive to be a little bit better than we were yesterday.
Ferre Laevers (2006) Forward to Basics! Deep‐Level‐Learning and the Experiential Approach, Early Years, 20:2,20–29, DOI: 10.1080/0957514000200203