The orphaned hero of four bestsellers makes his share of mistakes, but ultimately prevails in the end. He not only survived an abusive childhood in the home of mean and hateful relatives, but came out with hope and the ability to love intact.
"He is adventuresome, tolerant of a lot of negativism directed his way, yet is not aggressive, arrogant or clinically depressed," says Dr. Leah J. Dickstein, a psychiatrist and former elementary school teacher.
Dickstein chaired a symposium about the young wizard at the annual American Psychiatric Association's annual meeting. The session, one of more than 1,000 offered, looked at why Harry Potter was so popular, and whether it was a good or bad thing.
Panel members noted that the series by J.K. Rowling (three more books are promised) are a lot of fun, but can also help both young readers and psychiatrists.
Forensic and child psychiatrist Dr. Elissa P. Benedek says she regularly asks patients and their parents what TV shows videos they watch and what books they read to establish rapport and get some insight into what the children think and feel.
"Now I ask if they read Harry Potter. Who do they like? Who do they not like? What are their favorite scenes?"
One thing is consistent, Benedek says. None of her young patients, even those who are into heavy rap and violent lyrics, identifies with Harry's archenemy, the evil wizard Voldemort.
The books are "not merely escapes, but tools for children and adults to work through their daily struggles," says Dr. Daniel Dickstein, a pediatrician and resident in child psychiatry.
Almost everyone in the audience of 100 said they'd read at least one of the Potter books. Three-fourths had read all four.
One psychiatrist said the panel had changed his thinking.
Before the session, Dr. Earle Biassey said he had worked with some kids who had become obsessed with Harry Potter and took the books as proof that they don't have to obey adults.
"They think more in terms of how powerful they can be and get more control than anybody else," he said.
But after the session, he said the discussion made him "rethink a lot of things." He was particularly impressed by the discussion of how parents can use the books to connect with their children and talk about ethics and values.
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