A casual survey among kids and teens on who their role models are revealed an interesting set of answers, ranging from Kim Kardashian, for her being a social entrepreneur, to Lebron James, for his discipline as an athlete, to Noah, for his having many pets (from a three-year-old “respondent”). The most frequent answer, however, was Mom, Dad, or both. This, according to experts, is a natural and predictable response because parents, being a regular presence in their children’s daily lives, are in the best position to become role models to their kids.
Simply put, a role model is a person who influences others by serving as an example. By virtue of their perceived personal traits, behaviors, or accomplishments, role models can inspire others even without providing any direct support, instruction, or encouragement. In the eyes of the people who look up to them, role models provide a pattern for how life should be lived or a vision of what the future should look like.
Cesca Amurao, former guidance counselor and currently kindergarten coordinator at St. Theresa’s College, says having positive role models is beneficial for kids. “Role models can help guide children in their choices, decisions, and goals in life. They can serve as ‘life pegs’ and may shape the actions and preferences of those who look up to them.”
Young people find role models in different ways. Aside from their parents, a caregiver, relatives, and teachers often make the cut. Celebrities from sports, entertainment, business, and other fields are also popular choices. Some kids find inspiration in fictional characters from books, movies, and video games. Others find real-life exemplars in the ordinary people they encounter everyday.
Depending on how intensely they are admired, role models can have short-term or long-ranging influence. They can shape how children behave in school or how teens handle relationships. They can influence everything from eating habits and clothing preferences to far weightier matters, such as religious beliefs, political views, and career choices.
Most children change their role models as they grow up or have different role models for different areas of their lives. The parents, of course, cannot make the choice for their kids. Still, there are a few things parents can do to tip the scales in favor of choosing positive role models.
Talk your way in
During a family meal, parents can open a conversation about role models by talking about the hero from a movie they just saw, a saint whose life they have read about, or someone in the community who impressed them with an act of courage or kindness. Amurao suggests that parents mention actual role models they had when they were their kids’ age. “This way, the kids’ interest will be easier to capture because their parents are sharing about themselves. The parents can then steer the conversation to their current role models, which hopefully, the kids can relate to. If the children do not initiate talking about their role models, the parents can ask them indirectly by mentioning which character or person they feel their kids are imitating.”
Amurao emphasizes that it is always good for the parents to mention something positive in the role model of their child. “In case finding such a positive aspect is difficult, the parents should take time to listen to their child explain his or her choice. Scrutinizing the role model of your children will hurt their feelings, so be careful with your words.”
There should be a limit to the extent kids imitate their role models, cautions Amurao. Role models are merely guides and should not be followed blindly. “Parents should monitor if their children tend to dramatically change just to be like their role models. They need to remind their kids to not lose their identity and individuality in their efforts to emulate their idols.”
Amurao further advises parents to guide their children not to fixate on only one role model. Instead, they can have various role models for different aspects of their life; this will help nurture the kids wholistically. “Parents should assure their kids that they have special traits or talents that their role models may not have. These traits are what make them unique, and they should always be confident of who they are and what they can do.”
It is important that children are exposed to a good selection of role models. “Most young kids, particularly those in preschool to primary grades, are fascinated by the characters they see on television. Parents thus need to monitor the shows that their kids watch. Such fascination may seem trivial, but kids this age consider these characters extraordinary.” The influence of these “trivial” icons may be as simple as wishing to have hair like Frozen’s Elsa, to wanting to help people who are in trouble as Captain America does.
Kids in higher grades have more possible bases for choosing role models, explained Amurao. “Aside from characters from television or movies, the people they learn about in school or read about in books can become their exemplars. Some kids this age also look up to nonfictional idols, such as an older sibling.” Meanwhile, teenagers usually pick as role models those who are popular among their age, as well as the people they interact with often and those who make an impact on them in one way or another, such as their teachers.
Amurao stresses that, throughout these stages, “the parents should always process their kids, especially if the latter have very strong feelings of admiration for their role models. Parents should ensure that the environment they expose their kids to consists of more people who can have a positive, rather than a negative, effect on their kids.” Toward this end, parents can encourage their children to get involved in activities that promote positive values, such as sports programs and volunteer work, as well as instill in their kids prudence in their choice of books, music, movies, and their over-all social media diet.
More than ensuring that their kids choose positive role models, parents need to be positive role models to their children. Such positive modeling in words and actions is a potent parenting tool that can help develop children’s character and lead them along the right path. According to Amurao, “a lot of kids tend to look up to their parents and say that they want to be like them.” A good question for parents therefore is: Are you the person you want your children to be when they grow up?