We all know that the perfect role models for children are parents. That’s not to say that all parents are the best role models, but they are first and most prominent. Role models show the way, establish values, teach and mentor. If you were perfect, you probably wouldn’t mind being a role model. But if you are like everyone else, you aren’t perfect. That causes a dilemma. Do you deny any responsibility for being an example to others? Or do you carefully and consciously accept the role?
"I am not a role model" said Charles Barkley in a Nike commercial. Barkley called for parents and teachers to quit looking to him to "raise your kids" and be role models themselves. I think he is half right and half wrong. Parents should be the primary role models for their children, but he is naïve if he doesn’t know that many kids don’t have good role models for parents, including fathers, if they have a father at all. In fact, 33% of children do not live with a father. In the black community, that number is an astounding 63%! Because of these facts, boys are usually most impacted by a lack of a role model. All young men deserve a good example to look up to.
When their father is not around, where do young men go? In an interview with MTV, rapper Tupac Shakur said this, “I didn’t have a father, but I had pimps and drug dealers and robbers and killers telling me what I should do.” While most fatherless kids are not exposed to this kind of crazy, many never find a decent role model to follow and their future is at risk.
Even kids with good role models look up to their favorite athletes or heroes in some ways. That may not be fair to the athletes, but they should accept that role along with the money, or they can decline to be famous athletes. As a young military officer in uniform, I was no longer Mike Smith while in public--I was a representative of the US Air Force. I didn’t act much differently, but I acted more consciously and conscientiously. I took great pains to not embarrass the uniform. To embarrass myself would be on me alone. To embarrass the Air Force would be quite another thing. As a parent, you cannot always be yourself just as I couldn’t be a private citizen in uniform.
If a car cuts you off, you may respond one way if you are alone, but another if you are with young children. Police officers are held to a higher standard with regard to restraint. Restaurants are held to a higher standard for cleanliness. Airlines are held to a higher standard for safety. The military is held to a higher standard for teamwork and bravery. Role models are also held to higher standards, no matter what that role may be.
Do you know the best way to teach your children how to show kindness to others? It’s simply being kind to others yourself, including your children. It is paramount that you be a good example for them. If you smoke, drink heavily, or swear often, your children will see that as acceptable behavior no matter what you say to them otherwise. They trust that you know best how to act and react to all situations, and learned behaviors are hard to break. Of course, that trust may fade as they get older and they may look to others for guidance--some good, and possibly some bad.
My father was not a role model I chose to follow. Yet I find myself doing some things I saw him do. Most of those are innocuous habits, but I have made a bad choice or two from his example. I have learned from those bad choices, but not without some regret.
Here is an excerpt on the topic from my book, The Power of Dadhood.
“Know when your actions will come back to haunt you. Our kids watch us and learn from us from the earliest ages, even infancy. Be the man you want your children to model. As they get older, help them see what their actions tell others, and that life is all about the choices they make. They need to know why they make the choices they do, and how these choices impact both their own lives and those of others.”
The Role of Role Models
In my mind , the role of role models is to:
- have good values
- be good at what you represent
- be aware of your actions and of those around you
- know the situation you are in, and
- be a good citizen
You can choose to ignore the tacit responsibility of being a role model, but why would you? It’s an honor that has been bestowed upon you by someone who respects you and your example. However, as a mom or a dad, you can’t deny your responsibility, nor can you ignore the example that you are presenting to your children. Be careful!
Good role models are vital to the future of our youth!