When Role Models Fail Us: Where Does It Leave the Children?

When Police Officers, Celebrities, and the Government Fail to be Role Models

Dr. Robyn J.A. Silverman

We all make mistakes. It’s human. But we don’t always clean up our messes. As adults—parents, educators, and mentors—we play an important role in teaching children how to cope with mistakes. It’s not always pretty—it’s not always easy—but it’s the responsible thing to do.

But what happens when our role models fail us?

Police Officers: For example, we teach our children that police officers are role models. They look out for us and keep us safe. We may know they aren’t infallible—but we often gloss over that part when we explain their roles to children. They are therefore held in high regard as the people who can do know wrong since they seemingly make what’s wrong right in the world. But after the lack of justice served for Ashley McIntosh (my niece’s 33 year old assistant teacher who was killed last February), parents and educators are still in an uproar. The courts ruled that the police officer, Amanda Perry, didn’t need to take any responsibility for crashing into a young Fairfax County citizen when traveling through a red light without her siren on during a slick, icy night. How can we teach children and teens to take responsibility for themselves and our role models refuse to take responsibility for their mistakes?

Note: Virginia Residents: Help make Ashley’s law a reality by signing this free petition. The law would mandate that emergency vehicle operators always use their lights and siren when driving through red lights, and mandate emergency vehicle operators slow their vehicles so they are able to make a controlled stop when driving through any intersection.

Celebrities: Our children look to celebrities for inspiration and are often crushed when things don’t go as expected. The world seemed to stop cold when Miley Cyrus posed for Vanity Fair in April. She was the real life Disney princess—the everydaughter—the everyfriend—and both parents and young girls felt blindsided by her decision to pose for Annie Leibovitz with only a sheet covering her. She didn’t take responsibility. Nobody did. How can we teach our children and teens the importance of taking responsibility when those in limelight refuse to do so?

Government: Children and teens look to local and national government officials and something to aspire to in their later years. Every child wants to be in charge, don’t they? Many dream of becoming president! But during a year of scandal and shame, in which government has been often equated with adultery, failure, partisanship, and disappointment we must wonder what our children are thinking. Who wants to aspire to be THAT ? When golden parachutes open for those who steal, lie, and cheat, can we really teach our children that it’s best to admit mistakes, take responsibility, and clean up their messes?

What is your role in teaching children to take responsibility?

Redefine role models: Teach your children that people don’t become role models because they hold a particular position—that’s just their job. An oval office or a red carpet doesn’t make a role model. From police officers to celebrities to the little old lady down the street, people become role models because of their character and what they do. And of course- don’t forget to look in the mirror to see their most important role model…you.

Show them that role models are all around us: It’s true. Role models can be found everywhere and anywhere. They may be the responsible babysitter next door who always calls if she’s running a few minutes late or the stay at home mother who volunteers at the local animal shelter twice a week. They can be the teacher who stays an hour after school to help a struggling student or the business man who spends his Saturdays being a “Big Brother” to a child in need. They are every color, every size, every age, and every shape. Find these role models and expose your child to them.

Teach them that role models are not infallible but fix their mistakes: Even those with the best character are not immune to mistakes. That’s not the point. It’s what role models do with those mistakes once they make them. A true role model, whether they’re high ranking officials or a coaches at a Powerful Words Member School program always makes full attempts to mop up their messes and leave things better than they were before they were made.

Be the role model they deserve: Children need to know that for a great role model, they don’t have to look farther than their own home or schools. Parents and teachers must hold themselves to the highest standards. No matter what’s on TV or in the movies, you are the superheroes in their worlds. So try not to make huge mistakes—but if you do—work on fixing them…fast.  Post this up in your minds– if I knew my actions were setting the precedent for the next generation of leaders, would I be doing this? If not, stop. If you already did, see tip #3.

Teach them to be the role model they desire: Children need to know that what they choose to do is important if they want to be leaders. Ask them, how would a great leader handle this problem? What choice should the leader in you make? When they see themselves as leaders and are certain that you expect and know that they can be a powerful role model, they will rise to the occasion 9 out of 10 times.

Tell them to keep their heads high and their eyes on their own plate: This advice came straight from my father while I was growing up. Children and teens need to be confident in their own decisions. They can’t worry about what everyone is doing, thinking, or saying. When we focus on our own goals, other people’s choices don’t throw us.

Talk about mistakes and ask them for their opinions: When role models make mistakes, allow your children and teens to talk about it in their own words. Ask questions. Allow them to vent. Children need to know that they can come to you and talk openly about their frustration, confusion, and concerns. When you simply make yourself “available” to talk and listen, you are teaching them to become critical thinkers and helping them to realize that they can disagree with their role models or even change their minds about them. Talking it out will help them to digest what they’ve heard, expand their minds, and make decisions.

Of course, role models will continue to make blunders. We will continue to make mistakes. But we can’t throw up our hands and say “there’s nothing I can do.” That statement is simply untrue and irresponsible. We have to do better by our children if we want them to do better—be better—think better—as they grow, develop, and lead.

Please comment below– any ideas on how to deal with the failure of role models? We want to hear what you have to say!

Happy Columbus Day-

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Grow up Government! What We Can Teach Our Children: Part 2

Dr. Robyn Silverman

Yesterday, we discussed how our leaders are behaving like tantruming 2 year olds and getting nowhere.  Perhaps later today will be a different story…

Between those in charge on Wall Street and those in charge in Washington, our adults are more like anti- role models than positive ones.  We’ve been busy pointing fingers at our teen starlets and the bad example they set but are these adults acting any more adult-like and admirable?

[It’s time to] “act like grown-ups, if you will, and get this done for all of the people.” (Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, on bailout plan)

So how can we guide our children and teens to be respectful and responsible at a time when our own leaders are refusing to cooperate? Talk about trickle down! Can we use these top notch blunders to teach a thing or two to our youngsters? Yes we can!

(1) Talk through it in their terms: You don’t need to get into specifics or throw financial mumbo jumbo at them. However, you can talk about what happens when greedy people are in charge of the nation’s piggy banks, lend out money they don’t really have, make bad choices, and then ask others to mop up the mess. You can talk about what happens when leaders point fingers at each other instead of coming together, talking about real solutions, and actually, well, umm, leading.

In other words…”the adults in charge made a really big mess and nobody knows how to clean it up, who should clean it up or when they should clean it up. What do you think Mommy would say?”

(2) Ask questions: This is a great opportunity to engage your children and let them talk. Listen and encourage them to think outside of the box. Children and teens often come up with great ideas—and even the nuttiest ideas might be better than anything our government could come up with at this time. I mean, some might say that a 700 billion dollar buyout was a pretty crazy idea too, right?

a. How can they be more responsible? If the people on Wall Street aren’t being responsible with money, what do you think we should do? What do you think they did wrong? What can we learn from these people about how to manage money responsibly in our own home? How can the people in Washington better do their jobs and come together? Can they do a really good job when they’re angry at each other? What should they do?

[It was] five minutes of the most vicious partisan rhetoric. This is the kind of thing that you expect to hear on the floor of the House from some, you know, insignificant partisan back bencher. You do not expect to hear it from…the Speaker of the House whose responsibility it is to try and set the bipartisan tone to get this bill passed. I was appalled by this.” –Karl Rove on Nancy Pelosi’s speech; The O’Reilly Factor

b. Ask, what should a leader do? When things go wrong, a leader needs to step up and lead the way. Pointing fingers and throwing up hands is useless. Ask you children; if all of people in charge are arguing, pointing fingers, and refusing to talk to each other in a productive way, what do you think happens? As a leader, if you were in charge, what would you do? What is good leadership? Bad leadership? This should breed a lively discussion about leadership. After all, people shouldn’t just wear their titles, they should earn them everyday.

“Our economy is depending on decisive action from the government…This is what elected leaders owe the American people.” – G.W. Bush

“We’re all worried about losing our jobs. Most of us say, ‘I want this thing to pass, but I want you to vote for it – not me’.” (Wisconsin Republican Paul Ryan in his speech in support of the Bill)

c. Ask how can they show respect? Obviously, saying disrespectful things and refusing to hear other people out is not getting anyone anywhere. What happens when people don’t listen to each other? What should we tell the “adults” in Washington to do in order to come to a compromise? What is the result of blaming each other when something doesn’t go the way we want it to go? If you were in charge, what would you do?

“Because somebody hurt their feelings they decided to punish the country,” (Barney Frank; House financial services committee chairman, on the claim that following Nancy Pelosi’s speech, 12 Republicans who had planned to vote for the Bill changed their minds and voted against it.)

“Sen. Obama and his allies in Congress infused unnecessary partisanship into the process…Now is not the time to fix the blame; it’s time to fix the problem.” (J. McCain; after the failed vote)

(3) Discuss choices and consequences: We teach our children that every choice has a consequence but adults must tend to forget that sometimes. Talk to your children about the fact that sometimes when we make choices, it affects a lot of people. When we decide to steal, cheat, disrespect, or blame, it hurts other people’s feelings, makes them angry, and cheats other people out of what’s fair for them. Even adults need to deal with consequences.

“The consequences will grow worse each day if you do not act…Our country is not facing a choice between action and the smooth functioning of the free market. We are facing a choice between action and the real prospect of financial hardship” that will be felt across the board.” (G.W. Bush, 9-30-08)

(4) Help them understand how to cope with mistakes: We all make mistakes—even adults. Ask them; when you make a mistake, what do you do? What should we tell the adults to do when they make a mistake? This conversation can highlight issues of blame, trying again, renegotiating, listening, and stepping up when things go down hill.

With so much at stake — with our economy at risk, our children’s future in the balance — the greatest risk in this election is to repeat the same mistakes of the past. We can’t take a chance on that same losing game.” (B. Obama)

As we leave respect month and move on to responsibility month for Powerful Words , we’ll be working with the children on how to grow up to be a better leader and citizen of the world. Perhaps we should leave the door open to some of our politicians and Wall Street tycoons to come to our schools, take a seat, and listen. Everyone needs a refresher course every once in a while.

Powerful Role Models: Seven Ways to Make a Positive Impact on Children

They want to be just like you. Are you being a positive role model?

A role model is someone whose behavior is imitated by others. Of course, there are good role models and bad role models. There is even the counterintuitive anti-role model who behaves so badly that s/he serves as a good example of what NOT to do.

We all hope that children have good, strong role models who possess the kind of qualities that make our sons and daughters want to be (and become) better people. While there is some variation in every parent’s definition of what it means to be a good person, the following 7 characteristics of a positive role model remain constant.

Positive role models;

(1) Model positive choice-making: Little eyes are watching and little ears are listening. When it comes to being a role model, you must be aware that the choices you make don’t only impact you but also the children who regard you as their superhero. Someday, they will be in the same predicament and think to themselves, “What did s/he do when s/he was in the same situation?” When you are a role model it’s not enough to tell your charges the best choices to make. You must put them into action yourself.

(2) Think out loud: When you have a tough choice to make, allow the children to see how you work through the problem, weight the pros and cons, and come to a decision. The process of making a good decision is a skill. A good role model will not only show a child which decision is best, but also how they to come to that conclusion. That way, the child will be able to follow that reasoning when they are in a similar situation.

(3) Apologize and admit mistakes: Nobody’s perfect. When you make a bad choice, let those who are watching and learning from you know that you made a mistake and how you plan to correct it. This will help them to understand that (a) everyone makes mistakes; (b) it’s not the end of the world; (c) you can make it right; and (d) you should take responsibility for it as soon as possible. By apologizing, admitting your mistake, and repairing the damage, you will be demonstrating an important yet often overlooked part of being a role model. (This point began some great conversation on parents and role models in the comments below and here.)

(4) Follow through: We all want children to stick with their commitments and follow through with their promises. However, as adults, we get busy, distracted, and sometimes, a bit lazy. To be a good role model, we must demonstrate stick-to-itiveness and self discipline. That means; (a) be on time; (b) finish what you started; (c) don’t quit; (d) keep your word; and (e) don’t back off when things get challenging. When role models follow through with their goals, it teaches children that it can be done and helps them adopt an “if s/he can do it, so can I” attitude.

(5) Show respect: You may be driven, successful, and smart but whether you choose to show respect or not speaks volumes about the type of attitude it takes to make it in life. We always tell children to “treat others the way we want to be treated” and yet, may not subscribe to that axiom ourselves. Do you step on others to get ahead? Do you take your spouse, friends, or colleagues for granted? Do you show gratitude or attitude when others help you? In this case, it’s often the little things you do that make the biggest difference in how children perceive how to succeed in business and relationships.

(6) Be well rounded: While we don’t want to spread ourselves too thin, it’s important to show children that we can be more than just one thing. Great role models aren’t just “parents” or “teachers.” They’re people who show curiosities and have varied interests. They’re great learners and challenge themselves to get out of their comfort zones. You may be a father who’s also a student of the martial arts, a great chef, a good sportsman, and a treasured friend. You may be a mother who’s a gifted dancer, a solid rock climber, a celebrated singer, and a curious photographer. When children see that their role models can be many things, they will learn that they don’t need to pigeon-hole themselves in order to be successful.

(7) Demonstrate confidence in who you are: Whatever you choose to do with your life, be proud of the person you’ve become and continue to become. It may have been a long road and you may have experienced bumps along the way, but it’s the responsibility of a role model to commemorate the lessons learned, the strength we’ve amassed, and the character they’ve developed. We can always get better, however, in order for children to celebrate who they are, their role models need to show that confidence doesn’t start “5 pounds from now,” “2 more wins on top of this one,” or “1 more possession than I have today.” We must continue to strive while being happy with how far we’ve come at the same time.

While it may seem like a great deal of pressure to be a positive role model; nobody is expecting you to be superhuman. We certainly wouldn’t expect that behavior from the children who are looking to us for answers and guidance—nor would we want them to expect that kind of flawless behavior from themselves or others. You can only do your best. And, if you mess up today, you can always refer back to tip #3 and try again tomorrow. Good role models earn multiple chances from the children who believe in them and know they can do anything if they simply put their mind to it.

Here’s to a Powerful Week!