Role models play an important part in determining the paths our youth go down. Carnegie’s report (A Matter of Time: Risk and Opportunity in the Nonschool Hours, 1992) states that:
Young adolescents do not want to be left to their own devices. In national surveys and focus groups, America’s youth have given voice to a serious longing. They want more regular contact with adults who care about them and respect them, more opportunities to contribute to their communities, protection from the hazards of drugs, violence, and gangs, and greater access to constructive and attractive alternatives to the loneliness that so many now experience.
If you can think back to when you were a kid, you can probably remember some of the questions you had like, “what do I want to be when I grow up?” I think the biggest impact role models can have on our youth is helping them identify questions they didn’t originally have. Our youth some times can’t see further than their circle of friends and it’s the job of the role model to give them a glimpse of what the world has to offer. Today, as I look back, I can identify people I looked up to as a kid and it’s why I coach youth volleyball and am a Junior Achievement volunteer. I want to have a positive impact on someone’s life but it’s not always easy. There is a lot that can get in the way and as I thought about this, I thought it would only be appropriate to identify what advice I would give to someone asking themselves the question: “Am I being a good role model?” Here are 6 tips I would give to anyone:
1) Realize you’re a role model
Before you can follow any of these tips, you have to realize you’re a role model. We are all role models at some capacity but we have a choice on whether or not we want to make a positive or negative impact on the lives of our youth. 24% of the US population is under the age of 18; a simple interaction can have an impact. Unfortunately, a good percentage of these kids are probably following reality TV celebrities and pop singers that promote sex, drugs and violence. I really like Reese Witherspoon’s interview about her comment, “it’s possible to make it in Hollywood without a reality TV show.”
2) Listen, Listen, Listen
It’s easy to talk about yourself and difficult to listen. I love Mark Twain’s quote, “If God would have wanted us to talk more than listen, he would have given us 2 mouths and 1 ear.” Sometimes we’re so eager to provide advice before we even know the person’s situation and that person might only need to be heard. When the time is right, you’re opportunity to provide advice will come.
3) Respect their privacy
With the growth of free, online publishing (like my blog here), it’s easy to post about everything you do, including your discussions with those you’re mentoring. This is a bad idea. Everything you write online is there permanently and you can risk losing the trust of not only the person you’re working with but may have lost the respect of being a positive role model for anyone else in the future. I have heard so many stories of teachers, coaches and mentors losing their jobs as a consequence of negative comments they made about kids they’ve worked with on their social profiles.
4) Don’t think you always have the answer
I think the best quality a role model can have is the ability to swallow their pride. Yes, we may have a lot of answers but we have to admit when we don’t. I think we put a lot of pressure on ourselves with trying to have the right answer all the time and it’s not necessary. The best thing you can do is be honest and let them know that you will find someone that does have the answer.
5) Put politics aside
I have spoken to many teachers that have left their profession or are considering leaving because of the politics they have to deal with. It can certainly be challenging to deal with parents, administration and other views from the community but you have to remember why you’re there. At the end of the day, it’s about the kids and as long as you’re doing your part to help them better their lives, you have to let the other stuff go. (Of course, I am not a teacher and don’t mentor full time so I can imagine getting burnt out is common.)
6) Never stop looking for your role model
Until the day we die, we’re always learning something new. It’s silly to think we’ve experienced and learned everything under the moon. It’s true that we may have met a lot of our goals in life but that just means you need to set new goals. The world is full of endless opportunities and it’s our responsibility to make it a better place by making ourselves better and that starts with finding the right role model.