Parenting Month: Role Models

February 22, 2012

Kids need heroes.  They need role models.

And our culture has no shortage of role models.  I don’t think there’s an application to fill out or an interview process to become some kid’s role model.  There’s no certificate.  You just become one.

The problem with that system is that all kinds of people are running around, being role models, who have absolutely no business being looked up to by young children.

Simple question today: who is your kid’s hero?  You probably won’t like the answer.

Role Model Reject: Musicians

If you have not seen this video, I can’t say I blame you.  But 30 million people have.  It’s a clip of Ellen Degeneres’ show wherein two little girls get to meet Nicki Minaj.  The girls nearly crap in their tutus at this event.

If you are not familiar with Nicki Minaj, then you are lucky.  But if you watched the Grammy’s, she did the religiously themed performance that featured her being possessed and girls gyrating in front of praying holy men.

And almost as bad as the performance were some of the reactions from my corner of the blog world.  I saw dozens of Christians tweet and blog things like, “Say what you will, you have to hand it to Nicki Minaj.  She is talented.”

No, I do not have to hand anything to Nicki Minaj, least of all the assertion that she has “talent,” and I don’t understand any Christian who would tweet such a ludicrous thing.  Nicki Minaj appears to have sold her soul to the devil like Tommy Johnson, but forgot to ask for a decent singing voice in return.

Musicians are some of the first, and least deserving people to be idolized by kids.  Kids plug their iPods into their ears and fill their spongy heads with ridiculous, sexual, antisocial messages.  Your kids hear their musical idols more than their teachers, their youth pastors, even you.  Do you know what they are preaching to your kids?

Role Model Reject: Sports Heroes

I’m not saying that all sports figures are giant tools.  I’m not saying that even most of them are.  But what is inexcusable is the amount of worship we heap on these overgrown children for their ability to play games.  An athlete is likely your son’s first or second idol.  What do most boys what to do when they grow up?  Be a ball player.  Makes me wonder what boys wanted to do before pro sports.

Most kids naturally grow out of the pipe dream of being a pro athlete, or an astronaut, or a fire truck.  But many boys have to have this dream taken away far too late, when they try our and fail to make the ball team.  We wonder why so many kids aren’t more motivated to work hard in school.  Look at who they are idolizing.  We allow kids to idolize athletics instead of academics, and then wonder why they aren’t motivated to work hard in school.

Role Model Reject: Fantasy Land

You will never stop kids from fantasizing about being Harry Potter or Super Mario.  I don’t want to.  There have been many shows, books, characters and stories that have filled my need for fantasy and escapism.

But kids have an uncanny ability to get lost in a fantasy, to memorize and recite and re-enact scenes from shows or video games, to live in their minds in a fictional world.  The sixth graders last week interrupted class to break into a spontaneous rendition of Skyrim.  

I always point and laugh at people who think that the oral tradition that the Israelites used to pass down the Old Testament was horribly flawed and inaccurate.  “People could never remember all those stories without error!” they assert.  Bah!” I say.  How many random quotations from endless movies and sitcoms can I recite, completely extemporaneously?  I’ve never seen the written scripts, but I could be an understudy in The Office.  That’s oral tradition, suckers.  We remember the stories that are important to us.  We underestimate our ability to memorize things just because we waste our ability on stupid stuff.

The question is: how much of your kid’s brain is taken up by fantasy, verses truth?

And don’t tell me they’ll grow out of it.  You have to draw the line.  I give you exhibit A of failed parents:

Don’t assume your kids know that wizards and vampires aren’t real…unless you want this to happen.  We have an epidemic of adults who seem to prefer a fantasy to reality.

Okay, let’s hear it.  Who were your idols when you were kids?  Who are your kids looking up to?  Who do your kids love right now that you can’t stand?

22 responses to Parenting Month: Role Models

  1. I’ve been struggling to find the balance with this lately (I have a 12yo girl). I just can’t get over what parents allow, even Christian ones.

  2. Hey, now, as long as a guy pays his taxes and moves out of his parents’ basement, I think he’s got a right to parade around in his homemade Tron costume if he wants (actually, the construction on that is pretty impressive.) You don’t know this guy or his parents–judgemental much?

    I married a comic book artist, so I’ve seen my share of overweight girls in Princess Leia slave girl outfits at conventions. But I was suprised to find that there’s a significant amount of “normal” people (you know, with jobs and families) that go to these things. (And–suprise, suprise–drawing comics and writing sci-fi is actually WORK!) Sure, there are weirdos in every group, but for most of these guys, dressing up like a Star Wars alien is just a hobby–no different from more socially acceptable hobbies like woodworking or kung fu.

    Just because it’s not something you’re into, in doesn’t necessarily mean that you have to drag out the same tired old “awkward fanboy” stereotype as an indication that the whole world is going to hell in a handcart.

    • I get it. We all are fanboys and fangirls of something. But there is a definite trend, especially among young adults today of what could be considered extreme or constant escapism – where the fantasy provides more incentives than real life. I’m just saying, it’s easy to let the fantasy take over.

      • “Extreme or constant escapism”–I get that it’s a problem but I don’t see how it’s a big overwhelming trend. Young people have gotten their heads wrapped up in various things since the first gothic novel left the shelf. And “escapism” has a tendency to show up more in popular culture during hard times.

        Like I said, it’s not a reason for excessive handwringing, in my opinion.

  3. Back to the topic at hand–

    I have a little kid (6 years old), so he’s pretty much idolizing superheroes right now. Spiderman and Batman are his favorites.

    I mentioned the Tintin books a couple weeks ago, and Tintin has worked his way into the superhero pantheon right now. What’s impressed me with the series is a recurring emphasis on chivalry (which might suprise some people given my reputation for being one of those horrible feminists.)

    In more than one story, Tintin and his cohorts capture the bad guy who was just trying to shoot them, and usually someone ends up saying “Let’s throw him overboard–he was just trying to kill us!” and Tintin always refuses–usually saying “No-we’re not pirates” or “No, we’re better than that.”

    Not necessarily a bad thing for a boy to learn, in my opinion.

    As for myself, I don’t think I ever had a celebrity that I was so into that I wet my pants over them. I wanted to be just like Madonna (minus the sluttiness) when I was a little kid, and when I was in high school I wanted to be just like Courtney Love (minus the drugs.) But I grew out of it. I’m pretty sure most kids will grow out of Niki Minaj and all the rest, too. There’s no need for a lot of handwringing about it, in my opinion.

  4. I can’t speak for my kids anymore–they’re well into adulthood, but my idols from about age 6 on were Jacques Cousteau and Jane Goodall. (Yeah, I’m weird–and I was not brought up by Christians.)

    I eventually learned that Cousteau was more showman than scientist, but I’ve never lost my fascination with everything marine biological. And I actually had Goodall as a college professor! I’m sure they both influenced my decision to pick a science-y major.

  5. The Mighty Morphin Power Rangers were (are) my kid (adult) idols…lol…(don’t judge)

    My son (4): The Samuri Power Rangers…and some of “Daddy’s Toys” of the Mighty Morphin Power Rangers…

    My Girl (6): Anything Hello Kitty…(glad she don’t talk)…and some Disney Channel….(such a brainwashing channel….just sayin)…

    Sometimes…when we read the through the stories of the Bible…i had to remind them…that the Bible is Truth…and that TV is Fake…

    That things on TV is not real…they are playing pretend…

    But Jesus is real…and his power and love…

    They say…yeah, yeah…we know!

    Go Go Power Rangers!!!

  6. Was hoping to see a solution to this, or at least a tentative alternative. What should our kids look to, if not these people? And if they do look to them, what does that say about us as parents?

  7. My kids are too little to have too many heroes at the moment. I mean, our 5-yr-old loves Thomas the Tank engine, but I don’t think he wants to _be_ Thomas or Lightning McQueen.

    I think I’m more worried about our girls (our oldest especially since the younger one is only 11-months-old). We do our best to avoid the ubiquitous Disney Princess regime because, while I’m fine with her using her imagination to pretend to be a princess, I think it stifles the creativity to say “I want to be Jasmine” or Belle or whoever. The story is limited to what she’s already seen.

    I also feel the urge to protect our oldest girl from seeing “sexy” dancing (personally, I don’t see anything sexy about it, it’s just crude). I don’t want her to ever learn how to do that. I don’t want her to see it as ok or “normal” or acceptable.

    With our kids media consumption, I guess I’m as close as I get to a helicopter parent. I do my best to keep it to “whatever is pure, noble, etc…think on these things.” Niki Minaj and her ilk are far from anything on that list. VeggieTales and What’s in the Bible? get a large percentage of airtime in our house. (Seriously, check out – these are some of THE BEST DVDs in existence right now, no matter your age.)

    When I was a kid, I had a book called “Lives of Girls Who Became Famous.” They were my heroes. Helen Keller was the chief among them. Before I gave up my dream of being a ballerina (at the ripe old age of 6), Maria Tallchief was a hero. Princess Leia was definitely a hero (feminine, yet strong). Sally Ride, Judy Resnik….heck…still my heroes (and btw, I really hope that being an astronaut is not purely a “pipe dream” (or that it’s exclusive to boys) because I just submitted my application a few weeks ago). I don’t remember ever having a “pop culture” hero, but then I listened almost exclusively to Psalty the Singing Songbook until I was about 14 and got into Broadway and Big Band.

  8. I’d like to thank you on behalf of all of your readers for cropping the picture of Tron Guy where you did.

  9. You seem to be painting with a bit of a broad brush for my liking. Musicians can be great role models, they are creative and willing to put themselves out there. Sports heroes work hard and are healthy (minus the steroid users). Fantasy land can help their imagination. It seems to me that as long as you help your children focus on the right details, many role models can work out great. (granted I don’t have any kids, any actual parents out there agree/disagree?)

    • Well said. The most important thing in all of this is moderation.

    • I agree that musicians *can* be good role models. But the music most commonly marketed to kids does not provide them with positive messages or good models. I remember a middle school teacher berating us kids because so many of us were walking around with Kurt Cobain shirts. Positive role model?

      • That’s just it, though–who says everything a kid listens to has to have a “positive message” or be sung by a “good role model”?

        There are ton of reasons why a kid will like a particular performer that go beyond seeing them as a “role model”. Maybe they just happen to make music that sounds good?

        I loved me some Nirvana back in the day, and while I saw Kurt Cobain’s death as a tragic I never thought of him as a “role model”. Blowing out the speakers on my car listening to “Lithium” did not cause me to think that shooting up heroin was a good idea.

        I think it’s more likely that the kids in your school were wearing Cobain shirts to cheese off the adults, not because they particularly admired the guy.

  10. I grew up immersed in pop culture, going through every phase, yes even the “Shaun Cassidy” and “Andy Gibb” phase (as I bury my head in shame). But pop-culture role models are pretty short-lived because the media in general has developed this pattern of building people up into heros and then trying desperately to find a crack in their armor so that they can tear them down again. What the purpose for this is, I don’t know other than to sell papers, books, TV shows. It also makes a great comeback story (Robert Downey, Jr., John Travolta and I forsee a future Charlie Sheen comeback).

    I actually would say that anyone actively seeking the limelight is not worthy to be a role model because they are after image rather than character. And that goes for any and every profession including science, literature, and pastoring. That does not include those people who are pushed into the limelight because they are brilliant in their career field. And there is a difference between role models and hero worship, which is what the girls in the video seem to have. Hero worship is also encouraged in media.

    We are a books, movies and music family, though most of the people in music we like are more musicians than “performers.” Harry Potter and Star Wars is really big with the kids. They also like the Rick Riordan books. I think “Weird Al” is their favorite pop star because he is funny. We are Pixar fans in terms of kids programming.

    I have had several personal role models let me down–a pastor who made all leadership take the Peacemaker series ended up causing strife in the church without ever accepting responsibility or apologizing for it; my kids’ godfather, who kept both my husband and I accountable while we were dating, ended up having an affair and leaving his wife for the other woman. Those hurt more than the Tiger Woods scandal, or Enron or any political scandals that involve the word “gate” put together.

    Therefore, I want my kids to have a balanced view of people–that every person is a mixture of manure and glory–so that they can handle people disappointing them with grace.

  11. My girls love Disney Princesses. And Tinker Bell (save me).

    But their heroes?

    If I asked them who they most wanted to be like, they’d probably tell me the senior pastor’s sons.

    Or Gramma and Boppa (my parents).

    Or the senior pastor at our church.

    Not a bad list.

  12. Glad to know I wasn’t the only one who found encouraging kids that young to have an obsession with Nicki Minaj rather inappropriate!

    I don’t have kids, but some of the people I see held up as idols by kids/teens confuse me. I don’t doubt Justin Bieber is a nice guy, but I am yet to understand what makes him worthy of such intense adoration. He sings pop songs and makes boring music videos. Not exactly noble and world changing stuff. Same goes for the actors in Twilight. I recently had a teenager try to explain to me why one of them was their hero but I couldn’t follow the logic. I think it was something about the actor being such an individual.