Regardless of age, we can all be good role models. Children usually look up to their parents and siblings as being good role models to follow. As children become teenagers, parents may not be seen as very influential after all. Peers may come up a solid first and this explains why many parents are concerned that their young people have good and well-behaved peers as companions. But teenagers often look to other adults in their lives or they may look towards athletes or entertainers as role models.

Some Adults are Not Living Up as Good Examples

However, many adults are not living up to what some young people may be thinking of as good examples for them to follow. Other young people may simply adopt behavior that may appear fashionable, not knowing or not even thinking what impact this behavior may have on others. Other influential people in the society may have status, wealth and popularity and also have an impact on the behavior of young people, but in many instances, this impact is not often positive.  People in positions of power often hold the admiration of others, and unfortunately in many instances, they fail to live up to the responsibility of being good role models. Because of their power and influence, many of these people take advantage and behave in unseemly ways, knowing that their behaviour would very likely not turn their fans against them. Fortunately, for the thinking individuals, some people with power who are badly behaved fail to influence them, primarily because these thinking individuals know who they are and whom they would want to become.

Contrasting images of positive and negative role models

How Do Role Models Work: Theories about Role Models

According to Bandura’s Social Cognitive Theory, individuals tend to learn more by observing others rather than by learning from the outcomes of their own behaviour. Young people tend to look to those that they consider as role models more than to other adults. According to Hurd, Wittrup and Zimmerman (2011), young people (adolescents) tend to be influenced in their behaviour by adults in their everyday lives as opposed to athletes and entertainers. Also, “youth are more likely to do what they see adults doing, rather than what adults say to do” (Hurd et al., 2011).

Thought-provoking questions overlaid on an image of diverse adults engaged in conversation

However, while the Social Cognitive Theory focuses more on behaviour, the Motivational Theory of Role Modeling shows that role models not only act as “behavioural models”, but also have the effect of influencing goals and dreams, as representing possibilities to young people, thereby increasing their motivation, reinforcing existing goals, and helping them to adopt new goals (Morgenroth, Ryan, & Peters, 2015). Further, as young people see certain behaviour as rewarded, they more likely they are to adapt that behaviour.  Similarly,  when certain observed behaviour leads to punishment, young people are more likely to stay away from that behaviour. It is true that young people also have their goals and achieving these goals also depends on their motivation and belief in their own ability (self-efficacy) to achieve these goals.  The influence of adults can go a long way to reinforcing and helping young people to have faith in themselves to reach their goals. Consequently, this requires setting up supports and situations that provide young people with small successes and feelings of accomplishment. This is one of the responsibilities of adults towards young people.

Questions Adults Must Ask

“What messages are adults inadvertently sending to our young people?” Many of these messages promote poor morals, cyberbullying, violence, unfairness, implicit racism, and implicit sexism that have become so much a part of the value system of our present society. Courtesy, kindness, and good manners are seen as old-fashioned and out the window, considered as irrelevant and as political correctness gone awry. Even today, there is a great deal of racism, anti-Semitism, Islamophobia, and anti-LGBTQ+ sentiment in our society, leading to many instances of violence and display of deep-rooted hatred. As a society, we are not becoming more respectful or respected, but less so. With integrity missing, vicious action backs up hurtful words. Adults who ought to know better, fan the fires of hatred with their words, not stopping to think of the consequences.

Who Are We Fooling?

We are only fooling ourselves! For a young generation with wrong messages could only end up more confused than the previous generation and on the wrong side of good sense. What would our future generations of children be like, if we fail to give them good role models? If we provide them with no values, no morals, and no integrity, if today’s older adults and younger adults cannot proudly say that we are good role models for our children and teenagers, then our future generations would face even more serious challenges.

A visual metaphor depicting self-deception, perhaps an optical illusion or conflicting images.

Young People Must Take Action

Except our young people start talking, refuting and condemning the wrong messages about poor morals, cyberbullying, violence, unfairness, intolerance, implicit racism, implicit sexism, and wrong-headed actions that have become so much a part of our adult world, they would surely be lost and would have nothing to give to their own children.

Thankfully, Many Teenagers and Young Adults are Taking the Lead     

Many adults are providing good examples for their children and for the young people in their lives. Many teenagers and young adults are also taking the lead in being good examples for other young people. They are also motivating other young people to see possibilities and to pursue lofty goals. Not only are they role models, but many young people are becoming mentors and are actually willing to work with their peers to make changes where changes are needed.

Organizations often Help

Many organizations have as their aim the promotion of positive and successful living for youth. These organizations are to be supported because they are able to influence some young people who do not have others to encourage and motivate them. Many of these organizations also have lofty goals that young people could embrace and which help these young people to develop integrity, hopefulness, respect, and a positive outlook on life.

In short, older adults, young adults, and teenagers, as well as organizations, are responsible for providing role models for the young people.  It is only when everyone does his or her part as a role model that we can be assured of a brighter and more positive future in our society.  

In her books,  the Successful Youth Living series, Respect is only Human: A Response to Disrespect and Implicit Bias (Volume 6) and Welcoming Responsibilities: 30 Ways for Older Teens and Young Adults to Handle Responsibilities (Volume 2), Israelin Shockness writes about the importance of adults being good role models to younger people in promoting respectful living and also in adults and young people taking responsibility for the  examples they provide for children. In short, when adults and young people base their relationships on respect and become good role models, our society is enriched because of this.

References

Hurd, N. M., Wittrup, A. & Zimmerman, M. (2011). Role Models in Adolescent Development. Taken from Core Competences. Researchgate. Retrieved from https://www.researchgate.net/publication/304035431_Role_Models

Morgenroth, T., Ryan, M. K., & Peters, K. (2015). The Motivational Theory of role Modeling: How role models influence role aspirants’ goals. Review of General Psychology, 19(4). Advance online publication. http://dx.doi.org/10.1037/gpr0000059.

Shockness, I. (2019). Respect is Only Human: A Response to Disrespect and Implicit Bias. Available at Amazon – https://www.amazon.com/dp/1775009483. Also at other distribution channels like Lulu, Kobo, etc.

Shockness, I. (2017). Welcoming Responsibilities: 30 Ways for Older Teens and Young Adults to Handle Responsibilities. Available at Amazon – https://www.amazon.com/dp/B0748Q2QZY. Also at other distribution channels like Lulu, Kobo, etc.