Role Models Should Earn Their Admiration

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.”

Written by

John Romano is an entrepreneur, marketing strategist, Internet consultant, blogger and an expert in the technical, conceptual, and content development of online startups. He is the founder of several ecommerce sites and has helped multiple companies launch successful online businesses.


  1. Dan

    Role Models Should Earn Their Admiration

    Great stuff! Celebrities are indeed over rated!!!!

  2. Sarah

    Role Models Should Earn Their Admiration

    I agree. I hate to see my children follow bad habits of singers and actors.

    • Role Models Should Earn Their Admiration

      You forgot the athletes! :)

  3. Mandy

    Role Models Should Earn Their Admiration

    Great write-up! Successful people pick successful role models!

    • Role Models Should Earn Their Admiration

      Mandy, yes… it’s as easy as that! :)

  4. Johnson O

    Role Models Should Earn Their Admiration

    Believe it or not, I once read books by and/or about two people who really did inspire me: Howard Shultz, CEO of Starbucks, and Sam Walton, as in – you got it – Walmart.
    From Sam Walton, I got this: make your profit by quantity sales at low prices. And From Howard Schultz, exactly the opposite: make high quality products at a premium price, and people will pay for the experience as much as the product. However – on a more inspirational and personal level, two very different things stuck out. Sam Walton drove an old pickup even though he was a billionaire, and would stop to pick up a dime on the street corner. And Howard Schultz refused to give up, even when he was being rejected and laughed at by every investor in Seattle. Who’s laughing now? All this just to say — yes, role models are very important, and you never know who is going to say a small thing that makes a huge difference.

  5. Cassandra

    Role Models Should Earn Their Admiration

    I was in a “Miss Hospitality” contest when I was about 20 years old, and the judges asked me who my role model was. I’ll never forget the crushed look on my mom’s face when I answered with the name of a woman I barely knew. I would give anything to take that back, now that she’s gone. She wasn’t famous, but she inspired greatness in humble ways that don’t make headlines in newspapers.

  6. F Chriss

    Role Models Should Earn Their Admiration

    Yes, the athletes too often nosedive after becoming role models. But is the media and corporate sponsorship the real problem? They set them up to be super heroes, impossible to live up to in real life. Lance, Tiger, Oscar … all so admirable for different reasons, but forced into a distorted reality.

  7. Jeremiah

    Role Models Should Earn Their Admiration

    Very true that we need to start early teaching our kids what traits are admirable in a role model. Rather than waiting for their peers to teach them the wrong traits later.

  8. Kathy Milam

    Role Models Should Earn Their Admiration

    That story of the 8-year-old boy is really inspiring. Not just because he was so young, but its a reminder that you don’t have to be “great” to make a difference – you just have to use the small talents or interests that you already have. Thanks for the inspiration.

  9. Jennifer

    Role Models Should Earn Their Admiration

    As much as I agree celebs are over-rated, we really have to consider what that term ‘role model’ means. If someone aspires to be a rock star, the a rock star is a perfect role model. Of course, if that entertainer is also a good person he or she is an even better role model.

    Parent? If you believe your mom and dad made you a good person, they are the best role models because the put you in a position to aspire for something great like being an athlete, politician or entertainer.

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