Every one of us had someone we admired growing up. It could have been a parent, a teacher, a coach, an actor, a world leader, or any other of the almost infinite number of people that a child could look up to. Sometimes these role models have a direct relationship to the child who is inspired by them. Other times, a role model may never know that there is someone looking up to them, and they don’t realize that the decisions they make can affect more lives than just their own. Either way, the decisions these role models make can end up being a sort of blueprint for these children. But just how much can a role model affect the life of a child? I spent some time with MSU Extension in the last few months, and one of the programs that I was really drawn to was the 4-H program because I was in 4-H as a kid and learned a great deal from the experiences I had within the program. There would not be a 4-H program without leaders and parents getting involved. The leadership positions that are filled by these individuals leads to many of them serving as role models for the children in the program. It is then natural for the kids to start emulating these role models, and before you know it, the role models can have a major impact on the children’s young lives.
It is said that our happiness is based on how good we believe our life could be, and the difference between that and our reality (Thomas). It is very important for a child to find the correct role models in order to achieve the happiness that we all crave. It is easy for a child to find a role model in someone who has a direct relationship with them and is involved in their day-to-day lives, such as a parent, sibling, elder relative, teacher or coach. They may choose to look up to one of these people because they like the qualities that this person possesses, or they agree with the choices they make, or even just because that person respects them and treats them well. The way in which a child will choose a celebrity to look up to is much different. Often times, the child will know little to nothing about the celebrity’s personal life when they first decide to look up to them. They choose a celebrity to look up to because that celebrity is cool, or good-looking, or popular. It is only after they decide to like someone that they start learning who this person really is, which can be positive or very negative.
Role models who have a direct relationship with the child looking up to them can have a significant impact on the child’s life. The biggest reason for this is because the child sees the actions and choices of this person in their everyday life. The child may then start imitating these behaviors, possibly starting with small things like imitating their laugh or their walk. This can lead to them copying more serious behaviors such as how they act and how they make decisions. If the role model realizes the position they are in and wants to affect the child’s life in a positive way, they may be able to guide the child towards behaviors and choices that could help lead the child to a brighter future.
The biggest difference between a role model who has a direct relationship with a child and a celebrity role model is that the celebrity role model doesn’t get to see the difference they are making in the child’s life. The celebrities who are being looked up to often don’t realize how much their personal decisions can affect these children. In a USA Weekend survey, 48% of teens agreed that when celebrities drank alcohol it made teens want drink, 47% agreed that when celebrities smoked cigarettes it made them want to smoke, and 39% agreed that when celebrities take drugs it makes teens want to take drugs (USA Weekend). While a lot of celebrities realize that they are role models and make their decisions accordingly, some celebrities don’t care that young people look up to them and make their decisions only for themselves, which can negatively influence the children that look up to them. While it is difficult to gage exactly how much a child’s life can be affected by their role models, there is no denying that they can make a profound impact. Whether this impact is positive or negative is up to the role models themselves.
Whitbourne, Susan Krauss. We All Need Role Models to Motivate and Inspire Us. Psychology Today. 2013. https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/fulfillment-any-age/201311/we-all-need-role-models-motivate-and-inspire-us. Susan Krauss Whitbourne Ph. D. writes about why everyone needs positive role models in their life. She stresses the importance of “positive” role models because often it is the negative behaviors of people that get the most attention. Krauss states that children can learn much of their behavior through what is known as vicarious reinforcement, meaning that they will copy or emulate the behaviors of others that seem to get rewarded. She then talks about the importance of ethical and moral role models. This is a great resource because it looks at the effects of role models from a psychological perspective.
Thomas, Mark. The Importance of Role Models. Health Guidance. http://www.healthguidance.org/entry/13288/1/The-Importance-of-Role-Models.html. Mark Thomas’s article focuses on how role models can help guide young people through life during development and how that can lead to finding more happiness later in life. He writes about where children find role models and how these different relationships can have different effects on the child’s life. Mark then talks about what a parent or caregiver should look for when finding positive role models for their child. He finishes the article by highlighting the fact that role models aren’t always going to be perfect, and that they should serve as a guide rather than an exact example. This article shows the short term and long term repercussions that a role model can have on a young person.
Jacobson, Malia. The Miley Effect: Do Celebrities Shape Kids’ Values? Parent Map. 2013. https://www.parentmap.com/article/the-miley-effect-do-celebrities-shape-kids-values. Malia Jacobson starts the article by giving an example of when her daughter was looking up to a celebrity that wasn’t making the right choices to be a solid role model. She goes on to talk about the effect that celebrities can have on young people, good and bad. Children as young as 2 years old can start emulating others, so parents need to be aware of these influences from a very early age. She ends by giving several tips for parents to help make sure their children find positive role models in their life. I have included this article because it gives a parent’s perspective on celebrity role models. While I personally think it is best to let a child make many of their own decisions in order for them to learn from the outcomes, I realize that this “overprotective” view on parenting is used more today than ever before, and I think it is important to understand why these parents decide to coerce their kids towards role models that they approve of.
How to Get Involved
Becoming a positive role model isn’t always as easy as signing up somewhere. A lot of times, the person being looked up to has no choice in the matter. However, if you believe that you could make a positive impact in the life of a young person, there are several great youth mentoring programs that you could join. Some excellent options include the 4-H National Mentoring Program, Boys & Girls Clubs of America, and mentorships through local schools.
Ellicott, Claire. Teenagers without parental role model are 67% less likely to get a job. Daily Mail. 2010. http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-1342299/Teens-parent-role-model-67-cent-likely-job.html
USA Weekend. Survey Results, Teens & Celebrities. 2010. http://22.214.171.124/06_issues/060521/060521teens_and_celebs_full.html