When we reflect back on the experiences that shaped us when we were young, we often remember a special adult in our lives. It might have been a teacher, coach, babysitter, older relative, neighbor, or other caring adult that made a big impact on us. We see these role models as being important in shaping our lives. And that’s no surprise—research shows that positive adult role models have a tremendous impact on young people and can have the following benefits:
- Higher levels of self esteem
- Reduced use of tobacco, alcohol, marijuana, and hard drugs
- Improved high school graduation rates
- Greater aspirations and expectations for their careers
Palo Alto’s youth could use more Adult Role Models—in the Developmental Assets 2010 survey, only 51% of 5th graders and 48% of 7th graders and 33% of 9th – 12th graders reported the presence of positive adult role models in their lives.
Peter C. Scales, a Search Institute author and researcher has identified the #1 needs of kids between 10 and 15 years old, as positive social interactions with adults. Establishing these relationships early in your child’s life will help them during the difficult teen years. There are many ways that you can be an adult role model for your child and by extension to their friends.
- Treat them with love and respect.
- Model appropriate behavior. Your children are watching. If you bend the rules, then it’s okay for them to bend them.
- When you make mistakes, admit them and apologize when you fail them.
- Avoid making negative comments about others.
- Spend time with them. Be involved in their lives on a daily basis.
A positive role model doesn’t have to have any special skills—you don’t have to be a sports hero or a billionaire for youth to look up to you. In fact, most youth who said that they had role models identified them as caring friends and relatives. Every single one of us has the potential to make a difference in the lives of young people—all that matters is being willing to take the time to get to know a young person and let them get to know you, and to share your experience and knowledge.
The following discussion topics can help young people recognize the role models that influence their lives:
- What’s the difference between a hero and a role model?
- Are celebrities like sports stars, actors, and musicians good role models? Why or why not?
- Which adults whom you know do you admire? Why?
- What have you learned from adults that has helped or inspired you?
- What would you like to be able to talk about more with adults?
This article was adapted from the Project Cornerstone’s Asset of the Month program.
To learn more about the Palo Alto Developmental Assets Initiative (a Project Safety Net team) see www.devassetspaloalto.org.