Who was your role model? As adults, we can reflect on our role models as children. Maybe it was your mom or dad, a teacher, a coach or a celebrity. A positive role model inspires children to live meaningful lives. Research findings indicate children who can identify a positive role model in their lives have higher grades and self-esteem than those who can’t, particularly when youth know their role model personally. Furthermore, positive role models also decrease a child’s potential for risky behavior and are more likely to make healthy life choices regarding nutrition and exercise. Sadly, many children don’t have positive role models to look up to.
I don’t recall having a role model like a celebrity or famous person. I had my favorite bands and celebrities, but they weren’t the best people.
I was fortunate to have two wonderful parents who contributed to my life trajectory, but I was also impacted by teachers through my academic career that inspired me and challenged me, especially through high school and college. I needed this inspiration. As a teenage mom, I struggled to balance academics, raising my daughter and growing up myself. I can still name each of the key teachers who inspired me and professional colleagues in my early career.
I’d like to focus on role models children personally know. These are role models who are in their lives—people more commonly thought of as mentors.
A mentor is a caring and trustworthy individual who provides a young person with advice, support, motivation and personal enrichment. Mentors do not take the place of parents, but rather help to support parents in enhancing a young person’s life. They reinforce good values in kids and promote confidence building.
The relationship with a mentor can change the trajectory of a child’s life through encouragement, listening and challenging the child to be better. I see this impact every day at my organization through the work of caring adults who empower children to reach their full potential. These relationships are central in our philosophy and in many other organizations.
Mentors can also be found in schools, on the playing fields, in houses of worship and other youth-serving organizations. Today, mentors are hard to find with so much shut down, and it’s even harder for children and adults to stay connected.
As we come out of this pandemic, many children will have experienced grief, isolation, fear, trauma and chronic stress, not to mention disengagement from their peers, teachers and school. In today’s polarized world, we need to listen to the great role models of history such as Martin Luther King Jr. and Gandhi and share their message of hope, change and peace.
Let’s remember how important role models and mentors are for us as caregivers and our children as they grow.
Lisa McDonald is the executive director of the Boys & Girls Club of Frederick County. This nonprofit organization provides young people with a club of their own by providing quality after-school programs in a safe, friendly and inclusive environment.