“Don’t worry that your children never listen to you. Worry that they are always watching you.”
We all know that the most obvious role models for children are their parents. That’s not to say that all parents are the best role models, but they are the first and most prominent. Role models establish values, teach and mentor. They show their children the way of life. How to act, treat others, and be treated. Performing this important task sneaks up on many parents because their kids start off as babies, not seemingly paying attention–but they do in their own way.
If you were perfect, you probably wouldn’t mind being a role model. But 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? If you’re a parent, let’s hope you do.
“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%! All children need and deserve a good person 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.” Whatever he learned from them, it contributed to his early death. Thankfully, most fatherless kids are not exposed to this kind of crazy life, but many never find a decent role model to follow and their future is at risk.
Even kids with good parents/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.
You may respond in a very angry manner if a car cuts you off while driving, but if you are with young children you must hold back. 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 some bad.
My father was not a role model I chose to follow because he had some serious faults. 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.
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
The role of role models is to:
- Actively present and model good values
- Be believable in your lessons
- Be aware and of those around you
- Know you are being watched
- 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.”
Good role models are vital to the future of our youth and our world.
Michael Byron Smith is a retired USAF officer and civilian engineer. His interest in fatherhood came about from watching the struggles of his mother raising six children alone and the resultant struggles of his siblings. He has a blog entitled Helping Fathers to be Dads and is the author of “The Power of Dadhood: Be the Father Your Children Need”, published by Familius.com
Michael lives in St. Louis. MO with his wife of 40 years. He has three wonderful children and four beautiful grandchildren.