I recently asked a group of adults to describe important qualities they believed young people look for in a role model. They said a strong role model is fun and has a great sense of humor. Someone who understands what it’s like to be a kid. Someone who wants to be their friend.
Developmental psychologist and researcher, Marilyn Price-Mitchell, Ph.D., surveyed college students to identify common attributes among their role models. They pinpointed qualities like compassion, courage, and listening skills. Price-Mitchell insisted, “The greatest attribute of a role model is an ability to inspire others.”
In her book, Tomorrow’s Change Makers, Dr. Price-Mitchell shared five qualities young people identified as qualities they admired in adult role models:
They Possess Passion and an Ability to Inspire. Role models show passion for their work and have the capacity to infect others with their passion. They love what they do and want to share it with others. Strong role models have an ability to share their light in ways that ignite others to chase their own dreams.
They Have a Clear Set of Values. It’s one thing to talk about your beliefs; but young people expect role models to walk their talk. They admire those who act in ways that support their core values.
They Are Committed to Community. “Role models are other-focused as opposed to self-focused” explained Price-Mitchell. They are active in their communities and share their time and talents with others.
They Are Selfless and Accepting of Others. Young people admire those who demonstrate selflessness and are engaged in service to others. They ignore social barriers and differences. Their words and actions reflect inclusivity.
They Overcome Obstacles. Young people understand that challenges are part of their lived experiences. They want role models to show them how to face obstacles with courage and determination. They want role models to show them how to use what they learn from challenges to gain new knowledge and skills.
Young people are motivated by confident role models who have a clear purpose and accomplish their goals with hard work, courage, and resilience. They look to their role models for inspiration and to show them the way.
So, how can you be a good role model? Consider these tips to be the kind of adult young people admire:
Be proud of who you are. Stand tall in your own shoes. You don’t have to be a celebrity or a superstar to be a role model. Embrace the gifts you share with the world.
Hold high expectations for yourself and others. When you set a high bar for yourself, you inspire others to set a high bar for themselves.
Stand for something. William Ellery Channing once said, “Be true to your own highest convictions.” Don’t be afraid to honor your own beliefs.
Walk your talk. Young people may listen to your words, but they pay more attention to your actions. Make sure your actions are aligned with your values.
Integrity is important. Be honest and trustworthy. Honor your commitments. Young people are unwilling to open up to you unless you are authentic. Be who you are; not who you think others want you to be.
Be respectful. Treat others as you want to be treated. Don’t ignore kindness or good service. Say “thank you.” Pay it forward.
Accept responsibility for your own actions. Admit fault when you make a mistake. Apologize if you’ve hurt someone and take action to correct mistakes.
Young people develop coping and problem-solving skills as a result of their life experiences and relationships. Their role models inspire them to overcome obstacles and face each day with a positive attitude. It does not matter what you do to impact a young person’s life for good – it matters who you are.
Are you a good role model?
Unsure about your own dream? Read these tips from How to Find Your Passion.
Voices in the City School reflects how storytelling has the power to connect adults with young people and with one another.