At times, we all need someone we can look up to. Role models can come in many shapes and sizes – they can be someone close to us, a celebrity, or even a fictional character. Children (and adults) aspire to be these people, and ‘heroes’ can influence life decisions, as well as the life path people follow.
A hero can help children understand life events and situations - or develop personal traits and individuality. Joseph Campbell, a world-renown mythologist believed that “people created heroes and myths out of their own human experiences.”1 So the question is: what makes a hero a suitable role model for children?
We spoke to Natalie Davies from previous Aviva Community Fund winner, Inspired Youth, who have a passion for providing young people with opportunities and advice on getting into work. In fact, the charity run “four massive sector events focused on hospitality, care, tech and finance, which see local businesses come together to support young people who have an interest in the sector.” Davies helped us explore the reasoning behind how heroes can be beneficial for children during their early years and later in life.
We could be heroes
The first thing we wanted to find out is what makes for a positive hero or role model. Davies puts it simply for us: “an inspirational person or role model is someone that ‘connects’ with a person.” She went on to explain why:
Young people like to look at someone and believe that they can also be like that person, whether it is to achieve, be brave or just focus on a general goals. Sometimes facing these things on our own can seem unachievable, but seeing others do it makes us feel focused.
In other words, children want someone they can look up to, who they can relate to, and who can help them understand a particular situation they may have previously struggled to comprehend. “Life is challenging at times and it’s at that point when we feel lost as to what to do, we look for people to guide us.”
Inspiring a generation
A hero or role model can come in different forms for a child. “Family and friends, teachers, celebrities. Anyone that finds a connection on whatever level will influence and inspire young people,” explains Davies. This can even be fictional characters in their favourite books and television programmes.
These heroes can help to provide children with tools to help them learn about coping with life’s challenges. The tools can help children, for example: find their strengths, develop morals or to support others around them2. Heroes can also give children inspiration, and ambition to achieve goals towards a happier life3.
“Having the right role models around can have the most enormous impact on young people,” explains Davies, “they learn so much from watching the behaviours and attitudes of those in their lives.” These influences will help a child to develop their personality and individuality, making them feel more confident and independent.
Davies highlights that not to have a role model to look up to, or someone to guide them through life, can have a negative impact on children in the long run. “The disbelief in themselves is massive, hardly any confidence in themselves or their abilities, no pride in themselves they just seem to carry on with life with no real aspiration or direction.”
She continued to explain that, “young people are brought up to believe that to achieve a certain goal, they must follow a certain path.” However, being presented with achievable alternatives from a hero or positive role model, “ignites young people’s enthusiasm” and provides that child with an array of approaches to a problem.
From ordinary to extraordinary
There are many fictional characters, everyday people and famous icons that a child may look up to, but is there such thing as a right or wrong role model? Parents and guardians should try exposing children to lots of different people, from an array of backgrounds, to help them develop into an individual. Davies explains to us how parents should never tell their child they can’t do or be something, and continues to tell us her top tip for parents:
People get to the same destinations but through different paths young people just need to find the right path for them, if they hit bumps telling them that it's OK and that this should not stop them and to try again.
By providing them with all these different influences, parents are opening gateways for their children to take a pathway that will help them achieve life happiness. Here’s a couple of things a could observe when their child begins looking up to a hero or role model:
- Has the hero had an impact on their confidence? How are they socially?
- How does the child behave? What habits have they picked up?
- What ambitions does the child have?
- Have they taken up new hobbies? What are their friends like?
Parents know their child best, and if someone they’re looking up to is having a negative influence on the child, then that hero or role model isn’t suitable. A child will have lots of different influences as they grow up, and it will take time to find the right heroes for them.
Davies concludes that heroes and role models aren’t just great for children. “I think we all need ‘heroes’, inspirational people and role models at whatever age we are. I think we have inspirational people that stay with us our whole life and we turn to them when’s needed and we have others that are part of lives for that moment that inspires us.”
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