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Our Kids Need More Role Models in Their Lives, Not Influencers

Updated: Jul 30

Growing up I expect we all had role models. These were individuals we admired and looked up to and likely ranged from cool family friends to teachers, celebrities, or even fictional characters in some of our favorite books.


Some of the role models we favored had a very obvious influence on our life. Just look at the 80s fashion trends of Madonna and Michael Jackson, among others. I can still remember the “fashionable” bright red zipper pants I received for Christmas one year. True 80s fashion!


But ask a kid who their role model is today, and you might get an eye roll (or at least I did). I guess that’s a “mom phrase.” With kids spending so much time on social media, the buzz is all about influencers - the brands they promote, the number of followers they have, and how much money they make.


So it begs the question, do influencers make good role models?


Who Are Today’s Biggest Influencers?

A quick Internet search and it’s easy to see who the biggest influencers are. Instagram and TikTok are two of the most popular platforms among teens, although my kids would likely add YouTube as well. And the popularity of their influencers boils down to one number, how many followers do they have?


Top Instagram Influencers (in the US)

  1. The Rock - over 270 million followers

  2. Selena Gomez

  3. Justin Bieber

  4. Ariana Grande

  5. Jennifer Lopez

Top TikTok Influencers

  1. Charli D'Amelio - over 82 million followers

  2. Addison Rae

  3. Dixie D'Amelio

  4. Jason Derulo

  5. Josh Richards

Personally, I’m completely in the dark on TikTok influencers. These are quite often teens that have become overnight sensations with their viral videos showing off new dance moves or some other trend. And I doubt they consider themselves ‘role models’ but the reality is that is exactly what they have become to many of our children.


Our Kids Need More Role Models

Role models provide inspiration and can help us find unique ways to express ourselves. They can also motivate us during difficult times.


A big difference between role models and social media influencers, role models aren’t measured by the number of followers they have. It’s not a popularity contest. On the contrary, most influencers today are entertainers. That doesn’t mean we don’t have any role models in the mix. But their status is driven by the number of followers they have, so they constantly seek ways to keep us liking, clicking and sharing.


I’m sure we can all name a few celebrities or famous athletes who inspire us. There’s plenty to choose from after the Super Bowl and recent Olympic games. But there’s likely plenty of role models in our own communities that deserve some recognition as well. Consider the classmate who has overcome an incredible challenge, a neighbor who is always the first to lend a hand, or perhaps a close friend who always smiles and is kind to everyone. These individuals are also great role models for our kids.


Resources

The American Academy of Child Adolescent Psychiatry provides some helpful suggestions for discussing role models with your child and for serving as a positive role model yourself.


This All Pro Dad article reinforces the notion that the best role models for children sit across from them at the dinner table. He shares 10 ways for parents to be a role model to their children.


Moms.com shares10 famous people who are good role models for your children. Because not everyone famous is someone to avoid looking up to. These are famous people who are healthy for your child to admire, and have done great things!


And for the younger ones in your family, Adam Grant shares his insights on why fictional characters make good role models.


Join the Discussion

Most young kids cite their parents as role models, an obvious key influencer on their behavior as they develop. But this can be limiting as they get older, and many psychologists would encourage kids to identify role models that will push them to have high aspirations.


There’s no shortage of role models in our communities - literally and figuratively. It also goes without saying that our role models change throughout our lives (thankfully I have moved far beyond my love for red zipper pants).


Who were your role models as a kid?



About the Author

Jennifer Larson is an entrepreneur, charter school founder and mother to four children. Connect with her @startupjen.

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