Listen up, parents! Even in this celebrity-centric society where rock stars, athletes and reality show stars are put on a pedestal for dubious reasons, mom and dad are still the biggest role models for their kids.
I draw that conclusion from an article that appeared in an education blog of The New York Times that ran shortly after Apple co-founder and CEO Steve Jobs died. Reporter Shannon Doyne asked students “Who is Your Role Model?” and offered Jobs as well as pop singer Kelly Clarkson as examples of people worth emulating.
But when the students were asked to comment, the majority of respondents listed their role models as mom, dad, grandma, grandfather, sister, brother and teachers.
There’s something heartening about that. As a father of two boys, 6 and 4, I certainly hope I am a role model for them and I take that responsibility very seriously. But even though parents can be role models in your formative years and might even continue to be throughout your life, as you get older the people you admire can change. Certainly media can be a big influence as new leaders, artists, entrepreneurs, scholars and professionals come to the fore.
What qualities are important in a role model? And what makes them worthy of the designation? Lots of celebrities are idolized, but how many really deserve the adulation?
And nobody’s perfect. We all can’t be a Gandhi or Mother Teresa. So, perhaps in choosing a role model it’s better to look up to various people who excel at different things. A role model shouldn’t be just someone you hold in high esteem, but a person after whom you would want to pattern your life.
I have always been inspired by very successful people within specific categories. If I wanted to improve on a particular section of my life I would read a book on someone that was successful in that area, whether it would be in business, family, health & fitness, entrepreneurship, or life’s other endeavors.
Qualities such as intelligence, leadership, philanthropy, courage, humility and grace are certainly traits one might want to look for in a role model. Brad Pitt isn’t just a good-looking actor, he’s also interested in helping humanity, as he did by providing new housing for New Orleans residents after Hurricane Katrina. Hillary Clinton showed leadership as a First Lady and went on to become a U.S. Senator and inspired girls and women all over the world as Secretary of State. Muhammad Ali, a beloved athlete once considered to be the most famous person in the world, has used his fame to help other people with Parkinson’s disease by founding the Muhammad Ali Parkinson Center.
So it’s not just being a celebrity that makes a person role model-worthy, but what they do with their celebrity to teach, contribute and improve the human condition. They should inspire greatness in others, but earn their admiration.
And even though it’s nice to know, as a parent, that children still honor their mothers and their fathers, we can’t forget that peers can be role models as well; and it’s important to talk with kids about specific traits they like in the heroes they respect and want to imitate.
A few years ago, Forbes took a look at role models under the age of 18; and along with the names of actors, singers and athletes was Hunter Stewart, then 8 years old. He was a regular little kid with one extraordinary exception: When his mom was diagnosed in 2007 with cancer he did what he knew best — racing trophy karts, off-road trucks that usually run on motocross tracks — to raise awareness for the disease, donate money to the Susan G. Komen for the Cure Foundation, and inspire thousands of others to do the same.
I certainly wouldn’t mind if one of my boys said to me, “When I grow up, I want to be just like him.”