Every parent wants their child to grow up to be the best version of themselves. That’s why, as a parent, you worry about the role models that your child looks up to.
You want the actors, musicians, politicians, or other public figures that your child admires to act in ways that you would want your child to emulate. You probably want ordinary people in your child’s life, like teachers, coaches, and adult relatives also to behave in ways that you would want your child to try to live up to – and when these people don’t live up to the standards you want for a role model for your child, you take action.
The Effect of a Role Model on a Teen
If you see a negative role model, you might discourage your child from spending time with them (or spending time watching or listening to them) or otherwise try to minimize their presence in your teen’s life. You may:
- Try to get your teen interested in other role models.
- Speak to a person who plays a role model role in your child’s life directly, letting them know how their behavior affects your child.
- Talk to your teen about how sometimes people they look up to will make bad choices, and while they may simply have made a mistake, it’s important not to emulate those bad choices.
But one thing you might not be thinking about is your teen’s most important role model – you.
Parents As Role Models
Parents are a child’s first role model, and one of their most influential. You might remember that when your teen was a toddler, they would try to imitate everything you did. If you were cooking, they wanted to help. If you were typing on a computer, they wanted to touch the keys on the keyboard too.
By the time that children become teenagers, they’re much less open about wanting to imitate their parents, and may actively deny that their parents are role models. But don’t let that fool you – your teen is more aware of your actions than you think, and may emulate you in more ways than they’re even conscious of.
So it’s very important to make sure that you yourself are the best role model you can be. Take a look at some tips that can help you do just that.
1. Seek Self-Improvement
There are no perfect people. There’s always something that you can do to improve yourself and your life. That doesn’t mean that you need to feel bad about who you are right now, but you should always be looking for small ways to improve yourself – partly because it sets a good example for your children, and partly for yourself.
That doesn’t have to mean making huge changes. Self-improvement is most effective when you make small changes and turn them into habits over time, not when you try to change your whole life all at once.
- Make an effort to read more, even if it’s just a few pages of a book a day.
- Try to learn something new every day.
- If you don’t get much exercise, start taking a walk around the block once a day.
- If you want to be more generous, start by reaching out to your neighbors – bring some cookies to the new family on the block or offer to babysit for the single mom next door.
Only you know which areas of your life need improvement, and you can decide the best ways to make those improvements. Just know that your teen is watching, and it’s good for them to see that self-improvement is a normal part of adult life.
2. Practice What You Preach
Teenagers tend to think in very black and white terms. They don’t have the life experience yet to realize that people can sincerely believe one thing and act in a way that contradicts that belief for any number of complicated reasons, and that often choices aren’t as simple as “obviously right” and “obviously wrong”.
This can make them very sensitive to anything they perceive as hypocrisy, and it can also lead them to learn the wrong lessons when they see their role models behave in ways that contradict what they say.
For example, if you tell your teenager to watch less television and read more while you’re watching a couple of hours of television every evening, your teen may choose to ignore your advice because they don’t see you following it yourself, or they may learn that once they hit adulthood, they no longer need to read to expand their minds.
You can argue that you and your teen are in different situations – you may watch TV to relax and unwind from the stresses of work and parenthood, while your teen’s life looks relatively carefree in comparison, with more time to focus on things like personal growth. But this argument is not likely to work on your teen. If you want your teen to do something, you’ll have more success if you also do that thing yourself.
3. Practice Self Control
Emotions often run particularly high during the teenage years. There are many reasons for this, including hormone surges and the aforementioned tendency toward black and white thinking. It can be difficult for teens to control very strong emotions, and they may sometimes feel impulses to act on their emotions in inappropriate ways.
You can help by making sure that you’re practicing self-control yourself. Avoid yelling or shouting when you’re angry, for example. Instead, take the opportunity to model healthy ways to deal with angry feelings, like going for a run or a workout at the gym.
At the same time, be careful not to bottle up your emotions. It’s good to get your feelings out, and while sometimes that can mean calmly talking about how you feel, it can also mean crying, laughing, or engaging in some physical activity. It’s healthy to express your feelings, just make sure that you’re doing so in a way that doesn’t frighten or alienate your children or set a bad example for them.
You’re probably already trying to set a good example for your children, but remembering that you’re a role model as well as a parent can help you to be more mindful about the things you do that your teenager may be observing.
Dr. Nalin is a Licensed Clinical Psychologist, and Founder and Executive Director of Paradigm Treatment Centers, who has been a respected leader in the field of adolescent mental health for more than 20 years. He received his undergraduate degree from the University of Southern California, his Master’s degree from Loyola Marymount University, his Doctoral degree from Pacific University’s APA approved Clinical Psychology program, and completed his training at the University of California, San Diego’s APA approved psychology internship program.
Dr. Nalin has provided training and mentoring to students entering the field of psychology at institutions of learning including Pepperdine University’s Graduate School of Education and Psychology, UCSD, Pacific University, and Santa Monica College. He was also instrumental in the development of the treatment component of Los Angeles County’s first Juvenile Drug Court, which now serves as a national model.
Dr. Nalin has appeared as an expert on shows ranging from CBS News and Larry King, to CNN, The Today Show and MTV. He was also featured in an Anti-Drug Campaign for the Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP).
Dr. Nalin is a Diplomate of the National Institute of Sports Professionals and a Certified Sports Psychologist as well as a Certified Chemical Dependency Intervention Specialist. He lectures and conducts workshops nationally on the issues of teen mental health, substance abuse prevention, and innovative adolescence treatment.
In 2017 Dr. Nalin was awarded The Sigmund Freud Foundation and Sigmund Freud University’s Distinguished Achievement Award in recognition of his work with youth in the field of mental health over the course of his career.