Role models are highly important for us psychologically, helping to guide us through life during our development, to make important decisions that affect the outcome of our lives, and to help us find happiness in later life.
When we are growing up we look to our role models for inspiration and use this as a blueprint for how we should behave when we’re older. This is likely a survival function designed to help us to mimic the traits of those successful members of our society and thereby help us to be successful too. At the same time in later life its thought that our happiness is very much based on our perception of how our life should or could be and the gap between that and how it is in reality. In other words it’s striving for that same kind of success and achieving it that brings us happiness or otherwise when we’re older. This is called ‘actualization’ by Goldstein.
As such then, having the correct role model will ensure that we learn to be successful and adaptive in later life, and that we are happy when we are older having achieved that aim. It’s very important to get the right one then for yourself, and to provide one for your children.
Of course the most obvious role models for any child are the parents, followed by other immediate family and teachers. This is why it’s so important in these roles to provide a good role model – as children will be imitating your behaviour. That means that if you smoke, you can expect your child to take up smoking either now or later in life. If you swear meanwhile they too will swear, you are their blue print for living.
At the same time though they will find other role models elsewhere as they grow older, just as you probably have different role models today. This is even more the case if you or they are somehow lacking in immediate role models. For example a child whose Father has died is going to be missing a big male role model in their life and as a result you can expect them to be particularly impressionable by other males. If you or someone you know is in this situation then you need to make sure that those males are the correct ones.
When we look elsewhere for role models we are spoiled for choice. We have our peers be they work or school colleagues, we have characters from the media – comics, films, books, the music industry, sports… and all of these can become a big influence on us and the way we present ourselves. This might mean they affect us in a minor way leading us to alter the clothes we wear and our habits, or in a major way, leading us to make important considerations in our career or love life that make us closer to our idols, or changing our views on politics or religion.
If you’re choosing a role model for yourself or for a child then, it’s important to make sure that they have good morals and don’t indulge in self-destructive behaviour. A good role model should be someone hard working, creative, free thinking and moral. While you can’t choose role models for your children as such, you can make sure that they are exposed to a better selection to choose from. For example encouraging your child to read ‘Superman’ rather than ‘The Punisher’ (who murders his enemies and has a general bad attitude) might have a good impact on the way they turn out. Similarly if you find that they’re hanging around in what you deem to be ‘the wrong crowd’ then these can serve as bad role models. To solve this problem, try introducing them to other groups and encouraging them to mingle more while keeping them at home more nights they want to go off with their wrong group. Meanwhile if you find that your life is currently not going the way you want it to and you are growing distant from your friends and family, then look at your own priorities and who your current influences are.
At the same time though a role model must be fairly similar to yourself. This is one reason why Superman can make a slightly unfortunate role model. Fictional characters such as Superman make great role models, particularly for impressionable children, as they won’t start behaving unusually or getting attacked in the press. This means they can maintain their veneer of perfection unlike any ‘real’ heroes. The downside of this fact however is that it means you won’t ever be able to achieve that level of perfection. Someone wanting to be like Superman is never going to fly and they’ll find it’s not always possible to tell the truth in every situation ala Christopher Reeve’s Superman. This gulf can then lead to a sense of hopelessness and depression.
It doesn’t have to be Superman either – even a cover model can be a bad role model if they make you feel bad about your own body image. If it means you strive to improve yourself then great, but if it leaves you depressed and defeated then this is not a suitable role model. A role model should be someone with similar skills and assets to yourself, but a bit further along in life where you’d like to be at their age. If you’re overweight but a genius then, try choosing an overweight genius as a role model who’s successful and morally upstanding. Meanwhile if you’re disabled, Christopher Reeves or Stephen Hawking could be great influences and might also help you to get through any difficulties – again being a ‘blueprint’. For a blueprint to be effective it needs to be relevant…
At the same time though it’s important not to put role models on a pedestal. If they’re human and real then they need to be recognised as such. Everyone makes mistakes and so to follow anyone blindly is a mistake. Recognise that this is a ‘guide’ for you and not someone you have to follow exactly. One good way to prevent this from being a problem is to have multiple role models. This way if one of them does something you don’t agree with then you’ll still have others you can look to. At the same time it can be sensible to have different role models for different areas of your life.