What makes a role model ‘good’?
While everyone wants someone to look up to, children and teens need role models even more than anyone else, as they are still figuring out where they are going, who they want to be, and developing.
We all need guidance, a vision to follow, ideas, and inspiration to help us move forward, all of these things can come from a role model.
Although this is important for everyone, for teens it’s vital.
Teens are still developing and figuring out who they are, changing their minds at a rapid pace. They are looking for where they fit in, what they should be, they are deciding what is valuable to them. Having role models can show them what is valuable, and help them build an inner picture of who they want to be.
Obviously, a bad role model will turn them towards destruction, while a good role model can help build them into a beautiful person.
What exactly is a role model? Is it someone you want to be just like? Or is it someone you respect but not necessarily follow? Do you follow their path on certain areas or everything? What are most teens looking for in a role model? Who is fit to be put in that position?
All of these questions are important, but let’s start out with the basics.
What is a role model?
Dictionary.com defines a role model as:
“a person whose behavior, example, or success is or can be emulated by others, especially by younger people.”
So, a role model can mean different things to different people.
A teen may want to emulate their mother’s cooking style and general hashkafah, but maybe will connect more to her neighbor who is a few years older than her in the area of tzniyus. A teen may feel that a friend of theirs is a role model in the area of not speaking loshon hora, but will want to emulate the dress style of “Flatbush Girl”, a popular frum Instagram personality.
Another teen may be obsessed over the newest biography of a famous rebbetzin, and want to emulate her general hashkafah, but not agree with every part of the book. That same teen emulates her brother’s drive for emes, and the positivity of the nice old lady down the block she does chesed for. So, here is the first thing to understand about role models:
You can have multiple people you look up to, all in different areas.
There’s pros and cons to the fact teens and people can have a few different role models. Finding one person who is someone you want to emulate in every area is possible to find, but it’s not so easy. Having a few different role models creates an inner image of “who I want to be” that is very diverse and unique.
When you have multiple people you look up to, it creates a broader sense of reality. It lessens the pressure on their role models to be exemplary in every area and also help teens see how human they are, while still retaining the special respect the teens have for them.
Role models are in fact, also humans too. They aren’t perfect, and are still growing. When a teen focuses on one role model, they can end up putting their role models on a pedestal, and obsessing over them. They can even try and be just like them in how they talk, act, and dress.
The teenage years are very confusing for some, and just copying someone else and trying to be her can be a comforting easy way out of the whole “trying to find yourself” stage. Teens can get so sucked into that sense of reality of how their role model looks from the outside, rather than who they actually are.
This is similar to how many young teens in the secular world obsess of social media personalities without realizing that they are seeing an image, rather than a person.
Although it seems like having multiple role models is the best course to take, there’s a downside to that as well. When a teen looks up to so many different people in different ways, they might not realize the limitations of who they want to be. You can’t be an Instagram sensation, and be the pinnacle of tzniyus at the same time, the two are contradictory.
Ever heard the phrase: “A jack of all trades, a master of none”? Trying to attain every praiseworthy trait, talent and ability out there can create an unrealistic “I can have it all” attitude, that can teens to get frustrated when they realize that society doesn’t quite work that way.
So who can be a role model?
Well, anyone! You don’t even need to be an adult yet! You could be another teen yourself too! People, not just teens can look up to and respect anyone around them for a specific behavior. You could even just be a random person that was on the same car on the light rail, or you could be someone they see on a day to day basis.
When you are out in public, your behavior is being watched by people around you. Without you even knowing about it, you may have been someone’s role model for just one, fleeting moment, but in that moment another person saw how much you struggled, or something big you did, and it can remain in their memory for eternity.