In Teens

Teen Role Models: Who Do We Look Up To and Why?


Role models come in two types, good and bad. They are good if their influence on another person is positive. They are bad if it is not. As teens, we choose role models for a variety of reasons. Some of the common reasons are that the role models are famous, they are good-looking, they have some talent in sports or performing, or they are popular among other teens.

Choosing a Role Model

In many cases, it seems like teens choose a role model as part of an automatic process. If our friends think someone is cool, then we probably do as well.

Adult Role Models for Teens

Is having a role model important? Our Everyday Life reported that a study done by the Horatio Alger Association during 2008 and 2009 concluded that about 75% of teens and children find role models in their family members, teachers, coaches, and community leaders.

As young people mature, a natural process occurs as that person starts to find out more about themselves. As teens, we often define ourselves in opposition to our parents, which can be a source of conflict. Therefore, it is important that we have contact with other adults who serve as positive role models. When teens start a healthy friendship with an adult, we are able to copy the good parts of the adult’s behavior and make it a part of our own personality.

Teens enjoy positive reinforcement from adults that they respect. Negative reinforcement, such as adults telling teens what they should not do, is less effective. No adult likes to be treated that way and as teens on the way to becoming an adult we do not want to be treated as a child either.

Teens as Role Models for Other Teens

The massive amounts of exposure to pop culture experienced by teenagers includes plenty of examples of bad teen role models. Most people lost count of how many times Lindsay Lohan went into rehab. The charming child actor from the Disney Channel became a drug addicted trainwreck. The antics of Justin Bieber are another example.

There are good teen role models that are famous people. Parenting magazine, Her Interest, and The Stir picked some examples of good role models for teens; these include:

  • Amandla Stenberg who starred in Hunger Games, for creating a video entitled “Don’t Cash Crop My Cornrows.” The video’s message is that the media embraced black culture, but Americans did not embrace black people.
  • Malala Yousafzai who is the youngest winner of the Nobel Prize for standing up against the Taliban on behalf of Pakistani girls wanting an education. The Taliban shot her at her school. Her life story is in the documentary entitled “He Named Me Malala.” She travels around the world working tirelessly to promote women’s and girl’s rights.
  • Jazz Jennings is a teenage transgender who was born male, but her self-identification has always been female. She is an activist for transgender rights. By the age of 15, she had a reality television show, became a star on YouTube, co-authored a book, and started a foundation.
  • Mo’ne Davis was the first girl, at the age of 14, to pitch a shutout and win the 2014 Little League World Series, which got her on the cover of Sports Illustrated. Now she is playing with the Harlem Globetrotters.
  • Saira Blair became at the age of 19 the youngest state lawmaker in the USA. She was elected to the West Virginia House of Delegates.
  • Emma Watson starred in the Harry Potter films. When not working on a movie set, she continues to pursue her college education. She traveled to Bangladesh and Zambia to promote education for girls and campaigns for equality between males and females. The United Nations made her a Goodwill Ambassador in 2014.
  • John and Hank Green are brothers with 2.5 million subscribers to their Vlogbrothers’ YouTube videoblog, which gets young people interested in big global issues.
  • John Cena is a professional wrestler and star that granted over 500 Make-a-Wish requests.
  • Neil deGrasse Tyson is an astrophysicist. As an African-American, he overcame prejudice to become a popular scientific spokesperson with his TV show Cosmos. Plus, he makes astronomy cool.
  • Julian Castro became a council member for San Antonio, Texas at the age of 26 and then became its mayor. He worked as the Secretary of Housing and Urban Development for President Obama and has a good chance to join Hilary Clinton on her ticket as the candidate for Vice President.
  • Michael Sam was the first openly gay football player to enter the NFL draft and be picked. He played for a while and then was cut. He is now studying for his Master’s degree.

Is Your Role Model Worthy of Your Admiration?

It is good to copy the positive characteristics of others; just also realize that nobody is perfect. Sometimes when people make mistakes, or suffer from adversity, they learn valuable life lessons and the challenge helps them improve.

Examples of famous people who overcame adversity include Michael Jordan who got cut from his high school basketball team. Instead of giving up, he practiced alone until he got good enough to get on the team. He went on to become one of the greatest professional basketball players.

Richard Branson did terrible in school because of severe dyslexia. He went on to start over 400 companies and become a billionaire. Oprah Winfrey experienced sexual abuse as a child and suffered from extreme poverty. She overcame these obstacles to become a media powerhouse and still retained compassion for others.

These examples provide encouragement to teens that help us face challenges of our own.

What Does Your Role Model Say About You?

The role models admired by a person give a strong indication of their personality type and secret desires. Even if as teenagers we reject the influence of our parents during the time while we change from a child to become an adult, studies show that teens copy many of their parent’s values.

Surveys of teens show that we need parents to take on an important role in our life. Even if we appear not to listen, as teens we still remember good advice. We want our parents to set a good example and then allow us to follow the advice in a way that empowers us.

Our older siblings, who do well in school, act responsibly, and are kind to us as their younger brothers and/or sisters, make terrific role models. Since they are closer to our age, they have a better understanding of the current challenges that we face. If there is significant trust, we sometimes feel safer discussing things with a brother or a sister, which we are not comfortable talking over with our parents.

Choosing a good role model or models is about respect. Respect for another person’s good characteristics and respect for yourself.

Positive role models are important for everyone of any age; however, they are especially important for us teens in our formative years. Opinions and choices about things we make during this time of life can last for the rest of our life.

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