It’s a sunny afternoon, and the park is filled with laughter and gleeful shrieks. A group of children, sweaty and out of breath, sit in a circle, discussing what they wish to be when they grow up.
“I want to be like Cristiano Ronaldo!” shouts one. “I want to build rockets like Elon Musk!” another chirps. As these young souls trade aspirations, it’s clear that role models hold a special place in their innocent hearts.
But amidst this conversation, a quieter child speaks, “You know, I just don’t want to be like that uncle on Big Boss who lies to everyone.” And so, we are introduced to the lesser-discussed, but equally significant, concept of anti-role models.
As a parent to a 9-year-old, one of my key goals is to instill sound values in my child. If you are a parent, you would agree that this is a rather intricate task.
Unlike teaching maths and science to kids, teaching the correct values can prove to be a little tricky…But then, it is essential for raising responsible, compassionate, and successful individuals.
One way, I believe, to set kids off on the right track at an early age is to help them choose their role models and anti-role models.
See, in every child’s life, there are figures they look up to. These figures often come from parents, sports stars, scientists, superheroes, celebrities, and others. These role models become the pillars upon which children build their dreams and ambitions.
Yet, just as powerful in this journey are the anti-role models—the people you do not want to be when you grow up.
In this blog post, I will explore why this is important, and how you can do it effectively for your children.
Why Role Models Matter
Role models and anti-role models play a vital role in shaping a child’s personality, behavior, and values. By definition, a role model is a person who sets a positive example and inspires others to follow in their footsteps.
Most role models demonstrate hard work, perseverance, and integrity among other qualities. Some leave their mark on the world by their ability to challenge the status quo, think outside the box, push boundaries, and encourage innovation. Think Elon Musk, Mark Zuckerberg, and Steve Jobs.
Children and teenagers find them particularly influential in their formative years. From academic achievements to societal contributions, role models exemplify values that kids and teenagers can emulate.
On the other hand, an anti-role model is a person who exhibits negative traits or behaviors that we don’t want our kids to emulate.
Anti-role models can be found in real life – Bernie Madoff, Sam Bankman-Fried, Lance Armstrong, or in media such as movies and TV shows – Gordon Gekko and Walter White. Social media is replete with such individuals!
The Tale of Two Famous Figures
To understand this better, let’s explore the stories of two renowned figures: Lance Armstrong and Nelson Mandela. One was a celebrated cyclist, and the other a cherished statesman.
Lance Armstrong’s story is one of breathtaking ascents and heartbreaking descents. An athlete revered for his Tour de France victories, he became synonymous with endurance, grit, and resilience.
However, as the world later discovered, his achievements were underpinned by a cocktail of performance-enhancing drugs. The fallout was swift and brutal.
Armstrong’s story serves as a cautionary tale for youngsters. It teaches them how the pursuit of success, using any means, can throw your career off the cliff. It’s true that success that comes on the back of dishonest dealings never lasts long.
On the other side of the spectrum stands Nelson Mandela. Despite the harshest of adversities and 27 years of incarceration, he emerged not with vengeance but with a message of unity and understanding.
Mandela exemplifies that true greatness doesn’t come merely from talent or opportunity but from the character and choices one makes.
Why Anti-Role Models Matter
While role models like Mandela illuminate the path we should tread, anti-role models like Armstrong highlight the pitfalls we must avoid.
Both are indispensable in the moral and ethical education of children.
For many children, understanding what is wrong can sometimes be as influential, if not more, as knowing what is right. This is because the human brain, especially during its formative years, learns acutely from contrast.
Think of the way children often touch a hot surface only once. The negative experience etches a vivid lesson in their memory. Similarly, anti-role models offer clear, tangible examples of behaviors and choices to avoid.
A study published in the Journal of Youth and Adolescence found that adolescents who had positive role models showed higher levels of academic achievement, self-esteem, and prosocial behavior.
Conversely, kids and teenagers influenced by negative role models or anti-role models may be more prone to engage in risky behaviors such as substance abuse and violence.
Therefore, it is crucial to help them choose their role models and anti-role models wisely.
How to help kids and teenagers choose their role models
1. First and foremost, be a role model yourself. Kids often look up to the adults in their lives, so it’s essential to model the behaviors and values you want to instill in your child. Practice what you preach, and your child is likely to follow in your footsteps.
2. Start by having conversations with your child about what they admire in people. Ask them about their interests, and aspirations, and help them identify individuals who embody these qualities. This can be a great way to spark interest and engagement in the process.
3. Encourage your child to explore a diverse range of role models. Expose them to people from different backgrounds, professions, and walks of life. This can help broaden their perspective and expose them to new ideas and experiences.
4. Look for individuals who exhibit qualities that you would like your child to emulate. These can include traits like honesty, kindness, compassion, hard work, resilience, and determination.
5. Use media as a tool to find positive role models. Encourage your child to watch shows or movies that depict characters who exhibit positive qualities. Personally, I recommend inducing the habit of watching documentaries and biopics at an early age.
As the renowned poet Rumi once said, “Beyond our ideas of right-doing and wrong-doing, there is a field. I’ll meet you there.”
By providing children with a nuanced understanding of right and wrong, virtues and vices, and the consequences of choices, we can prepare them for a well-rounded life.
Role models inspire them toward greatness, while anti-role models offer cautionary tales that help them tread wisely. And in this delicate balance, we lay the groundwork for future generations that are both ambitious and conscientious.
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