Have you ever asked your child who their role models are and why? What may seem like an easy question, can reveal a lot about their values, aspirations, and deep desires.
Positive role models are essential at any age; however, for pre-teens and teens that are going through their formative years, a role model can positively influence the decisions and choices they make, which in turn can affect the rest of their lives. However, in truth role models can as easily turn out to be negative influencers.
How can you encourage a positive choice?
As a parent, teacher, or guardian, the trick is to try to understand the motivations behind their role model selection to guide them towards positive ones. You can do this by asking reflective questions that focus on the values, behaviours, and successes of their role model. The American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry supports this method.
In addition to guiding children towards a positive choice, these types of reflective questions can also help you to turn their interest into a catalyst for tremendous personal development through involvement in extracurricular activities, clubs, and hobbies.
Here’s a real example to explain further. I was with a friend the other week discussing this topic, and she told me that her teenage daughter was tasked with a role model assignment at school. Her daughter had to pick three role models and present why they inspired her. Her daughter picked Emma Watson, Michelle Obama, and her mum! Her explanation was all three were strong and confident women, who were happy, honest, and passionate, and they had achieved a lot for different causes.
With this insider knowledge into the mind of her teen, my friend could start to encourage her daughter to get involved with good cause projects (like Emma Watson) or pursue a leadership role in the school (like Michelle Obama), by linking it back to her idols.
The Role Model project
I have often spoken about the importance of self-reflection for children (and adults!), and this role model project is a great reflective tool you can do at home.
Once you have managed to engage your teen in the activity and produce a list of role models, you will need to inspire them to dig deep into the why’s. If it is a celebrity, try to encourage them to explain why they respect those personalities beyond fame and fortune.
Reflective questions you could ask include:
- What is it about their work you respect?
- What parts of their personalities would you like to embody?
- Do you think their past has shaped who they have become?
- How do you think they reached the position they are in?
- What do you think is their strongest skill?
- Who do you think is their role model?
- How can you bring these qualities into your life?
- Help your teen to find the common thread that links them by having them elaborate as much as possible.
Beware! that you don’t attempt to answer the question yourself, bombard them with all the questions at once or judge their idols! Ask one question and give your child time to come to the answer themselves.
I understand communication with a teen can be difficult, but as role models are a point of passion, you should find that with the right approach and timing they will quite happily open up about the subject.You can further encourage sharing by opening up about who your role models were at their age and who they are now.