10 Best TV Role Models of 2012

From Handy Manny to Ellen Degeneres, here are the folks who make a good impression on kids. By Sierra Filucci
10 Best TV Role Models of 2012

Bob the Builder, Dora the Explorer, iCarly -- these are the characters our kids are growing up with, and the examples they set can make a big impression on kids' developing minds.

As parents, we want to steer our kids toward the best possible role models -- the folks who might not always be perfect but who are thoughtful, kind, and maybe even a little inspirational. And, usually, we want to guide kids away from the worst role models -- the ones who can be cruel, shallow, and rude.

Luckily, there's a lot of good stuff out there  if you know what to look for. We've picked some of our favorites below. Complement these TV role models with real-life people who make a personal impact on your kids, and point out the qualities you want your children to emulate.

  1. Manny, Handy Manny (3+)

Why he's great: Manny is a model of generosity and community spirit. He's always willing to help out a friend or neighbor, and he helps negotiate conflicts between his talking tools. And though Manny is a family man, he teaches that families aren't always about blood relations but about those who care about you and encourage you to be your best.

What makes him extra-special: Not only does Manny model positive social behavior for impressionable preschoolers, but he gently sprinkles Spanish and cultural lessons into his daily life. Since preschoolers are sponges for language and just starting to learn about the world around them, this is a great, subtle introduction to diversity.

  1. Sid, Sid the Science Kid (3+)

Why he's great: Sid is such a curious little bundle of energy. And just like most preschoolers, he's got a serious case of the "whys." Why is the sky blue? Why do my feet grow? Why can't I eat cake for every meal? Not only does he figure out the answers to these questions, he engages his friends in his investigations.

What makes him extra-special: The age-appropriate science lessons embedded in Sid's discoveries support school readiness, which is great for the pre-K crowd. And Sid's curiosity is exactly the kind of enthusiasm about learning that we want to see in our kids.

  1. Electric Company cast, The Electric Company (5+)

Why they're great: Just like the original cast from the 1970s, the kids on The Electric Company are smart, enthusiastic, and hilarious. Kids range in ages, ethnic backgrounds, speaking styles, and interests, but they're all respectful and relatable, and they encourage kids to treat learning as tons of fun.

What makes them extra-special: The educational lessons the cast delivers are a great way to reach kids, and the cast members are all examples of kids who've worked hard to achieve their goals. And they look like they're having a great time doing something they love.

  1. Jane, Jane and the Dragon (6+)

Why she's great: Jane is smart, confident, and has big dreams. Growing up in medieval England as part of the royal court, she challenges the expectation that she'll be a lady in waiting and proves herself capable of becoming a knight. Her adventures are full of positive lessons about friendship, bravery, and patience.

What makes her extra-special: Giving kids examples of characters who defy stereotypes is a great way to keep their minds open and limit media influence on their budding worldview. Jane stands up for what she wants, even if it's not popular, and she proves that girls shouldn't be limited by expectation.

  1. Jessie, Jessie (7+)

Why she's great: As a nanny, Jessie always has the kids' best interests at heart. She's responsible and caring, and she even encourages the mom and dad on the show to be better parents. She's also not afraid to speak her mind when she disagrees with someone.

What makes her extra-special: Even though Jessie's life isn't the most realistic (this is a Disney comedy, after all), young kids won't mind a bit. Instead they'll see a thoroughly likeable character who stays optimistic as she navigates a new city and a new job, showing kids the value of maintaining a positive attitude in the face of a challenge.

  1. Jamie Oliver, Jamie Oliver's Food Revolution (10+) and Jamie's American Road Trip (13+)

Why he's great: Oliver has clear goals in both shows -- to get kids to eat healthier food and to break down stereotypes about American cuisine and culture. He doesn't shy away from the fight against the bureaucracy of the American school food system, which teaches kids to stand up for what they believe in, even if it's hard. And he moves outside his comfort zone with an open mind when traveling across the States. He's also funny, smart, energetic, and not afraid to show emotion.

What makes him extra-special: In the era of celebrity chefs, Oliver is a guy who's using his talents to make the world a better place. He's also a real person, with real talents, doing real work, which gives him an edge over fantasy characters.

  1. Zach Anner, Rollin' with Zach (10+)

Why he's great: Anner hosts a travel show in which he zips around the United States and tries out five different activities that each locale is famous for. The fact that he has cerebral palsy and uses a wheelchair doesn't usually slow him down -- and when it does, he shows how humor can help a person get through uncomfortable situations.

What makes him extra-special: There's very little representation of disabled folks on television, and Anner is a great example of someone who has a disability but isn't defined by it. It's not that his wheelchair doesn't get in the way of some of his activities, but those examples can open kids' mind to the challenges that disabled people face on a daily basis -- and help them build a little compassion, too.

  1. Ellen DeGeneres, The Ellen DeGeneres Show (13+)

Why she's great: Ellen shows kids that being yourself is the most important thing. She's overcome discrimination and made it through some tough times to become one of the most popular, likeable, and funny talk show hosts on the air. And she takes on issues that are important to kids, like fighting bullies, all while making us laugh.

What makes her extra-special: When kids see Ellen, they see someone who's comfortable in her own skin. She might not fit into everyone's idea of the mainstream when it comes to her personal life or her clothing (you're not going to see her in high heels!), but she's a great example of someone who hasn't compromised herself to achieve success.

  1. Finn, Glee (13+)

Why he's great: So many of the characters on Glee have something to admire, but we like Finn because he's sporty guy who's not afraid to show his creative and emotional side. He's gone against popular opinion in order to pursue his creativity. And he's a respectful and caring boyfriend. He might not be the brightest kid in class, but his sincerity wins us over.

What makes him extra-special: Going against the grain is great messaging for teens who feel so much pressure to conform in their daily lives. Finn's a guy who can be physical and pal around with the guys but who's not afraid to express his feelings and step out of his comfort zone.

  1. Rory, Gilmore Girls (14+)

Why she's great: Rory is all grown up now, but viewers willing to peek back in time will find one of the most realistic, down-to-earth teen girls ever portrayed on television. She isn't perfect, but she has a good head and a good heart. Smart as can be, Rory reads for pleasure and excels in school. She looks and acts like a regular girl too -- not overly skinny or too made-up or hyper-dramatic. And she and her mom have a loving, respectful, and complex relationship -- which many teens can relate to.

What makes her extra-special: It's so hard for teen girls to find realistic role models on TV, and Rory is an excellent example of someone who seems like the perfect best friend -- someone you can talk to and trust, but also someone who's still figuring things out -- just like most teen girls.

About Sierra Filucci

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Sierra is a journalist with a special interest in media and families. She has a master's degree in journalism from the University of California at Berkeley, and she's been writing and editing professionally for more... Read more

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Comments (50)

Teen, 14 years old written by Buffy Rules

Buffy the Vampire Slayer (hence my username) is the absolutely BEST show for anyone aged above 13, or possibly parental guidance to a 12-year-old. The cast of characters include Buffy Summers, Xander Harris, Willow Rosenberg and Rupert Giles, just to name a few, and the show demonstrates they're not perfect. If you don't know what the show is about, it is about a Chosen One, a Slayer, who, in a long line of women or young women, when one dies, another is brought up. And so Buffy, the next Slayer, comes up and in the Pilot, accepts her destiny, and so now has to battle supernatural monsters, demons and the "forces of darkness". How could this not be there, what with it strong female characters, and the fact that gender equality and character flaws are openly out there? It is brilliant and I highly suggest getting it on DVD, in Australia it is M (Recommended for mature audiences) and in America it's mostly TV-PG but can be TV-14. Please include this.
Adult written by Senser123

I feel having a more positive TV role model a apposed to a negative one is a win-win situation even more so in today's world than in decades past that also goes for future generations.
Parent of a 8 and 10 year old written by Lilburn

Nope- not in our house. My boys prefer Big Bang Theory, Swamp People and sports shows. Bazinga!!
Kid, 10 years old

Wanna know what's Ironic?in another reveiw jessie was a BAD rolemodel CHOOSE woman. CHOOSE
Teen, 15 years old written by rebma97

I think that the main characters on My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic are all great role models. They get into arguments like most friends, but they always stick together in the end. Also, if anyone's watched the show The Nine Lives of Chloe King (it was cancelled awhile ago), I think the main character, Chloe King, is a really good role model: she's very selfless and always trying to protect the ones she loves. I'm sure they're more but I can't think of them off-hand right now.
Teen, 14 years old written by DangerRanger101

I think you should make a part two because you missed out on one very important role model. I'm talking about Doc from Doc McStuffins, because you wrote an entire article that just went on to praise and gush about her character. I quite agree with all of the things you said about her; she's kind, persistent, intelligent, and, not to mention, a darn good big-sister! Those are all characteristics of a good role model.
Kid, 9 years old

I feel that most of these shows "kids" will not watch. The tween crowd ( like me ) prefer older programs. I watch shows like The office, Dancing with the stars, Celebrity apprentice and impractical jokers. Even though there is some adult humor on these shows it isn't really gonna be too bad. Not that these people I speak of ARE good role models.
Kid, 10 years old

YEAH go non-bully you are right all this Sid science kid stuff makes me want to puke
Teen, 14 years old written by SlipperyQ

I agree with many of these - particularly Ellen and Manny, odd as those are together - but Jessie has always bothered me. She is stereotypical, shallow, and overly romantisized. She's too perfect, but is considered perfect for the wrong reasons. She is a pretty face and it's easy to feel like she's fine, but kids need to look up to people who are unique and real and complex; the world is not made of black and white, or even primary colors, but is filled with light and music and shades that can be light and dark, and people are the same. They are not cardboard cutouts. They are beautiful and disasterous and they make mistakes and they sometimes do the wrong thing, but - I believe, at least - they are good at heart. I am not a parent, but I am a big sister, and I want my sister's role models to be that way. I want them to be human. My baby sister has taught me what it is to love; she's made me into the person I am. She is the most beautiful person in the whole world, I know, and I want her to look up to truly admirable people. She's much smarter than I am- she has so much love in her heart, so much faith that the world is a good place deep down. She deserves the very best, most realistic and human, people to look up to. Jessie is not one of them. I prefer Lilo or Juno (when she's bigger) or Harry Potter, Aang or Edward Elric. I don't know most of the people on this list- but the inclusion of Jessie makes me question it.
Teen, 13 years old written by CptDrake

Umm while most of these role models are fine Finn from Glee is not a good role model. He has sex, gets in fights, and acts irresponsible!
Kid, 9 years old

Why do you have to come up with the list of stuff? Let the people speak to really find whats real and whats fake. You should set up some sort of vote or something. And I think John Cena should be on the list because he is tough on the outside but nice on the inside. Also John has met with like thousands of make a wish kids and has done so much for charity.
Kid, 9 years old

Kid 12 years old Jessie is fine she is a good role model. She punishes the kids when their bad. She tries to steer them to do the right thing. And she never is snobby or rude. What did you think was so not kid-appropriate? How would you have gotten to see it anyway if it's not "kid-appropriate" it's freaking Disney channel it was created for kids.
Teen, 13 years old written by Johnnycade7

As an early teenage boy (13 to be exact) I have to say that I find them Sid, Manny, and Jess annoying. But I have to say... yes, they are pretty good role models for those exact reasons. Also, most of those other characters I liked such as: Puck, (he was cool) The EC Cast, Jane, Ellen, and Rory (I caught a gimpse of my mom watching the show when I was little, she's cute). Even the characters I don't know sound pretty cool. So all in all... this is a pretty good Top 10.
Teen, 15 years old written by Allons-y

I can agree with Ellen, she is a wonderful person. Jessie? No. I think she deserves to be on the top 10 worst role models. She is a maniac and is extremely immature. Twilight Sparkle from My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic deserves to be on here. Now she is a good role model. She is smart, loves her friends, and can stand up for herself. She has her bad moments, but not everyone is perfect.
Kid, 10 years old

Jessie? She is sassy and in my opinion, not a good role model for young kids! I love the show, being 10 myself, but she is not a super good influence on me and my friends.
Parent of a 9 year old written by SonofKatieElder

My son (9) and I love watching old classics on TCM. He loves the Marx Bros. classic family comedy where we discuss family and how to become a talented musician - only throughy dedication and practise. We also watch Johny Wayne movies - Honesty, Loyalty, Integrity -- not everyones cup of tea in today's PC society but no different from the values being encouraged in school. I also teach him its okay to cry as it is ok to not always be the winner...... as long as you keep trying (Robert the Bruce and the spider ) always comes up at that point. I hope we can raise an honest, independent, toughtful, compassionate kindhearted boy who loves life and is not afraid t either laugh or cry --- hopefully he will do more of the former.
Kid, 11 years old

I love Ellen, but the rest, I have no idea who they are, or have not watched.
Kid, 10 years old

I love u jessie your cool and a good role model!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!:)
Parent written by haggerhoven

AlexRK- You are awesome. I hope when my son grows up he will be as smart, sensible, and well spoken as you are! Thank you.
Adult written by music fan2.0

hey what about china from ant farm she is a kind and respectful and dependable young lady and also if you are going to put fin from glee on your list why not add rachel she is just as good if not better of a role model than he is and as for jessie yes you are right she is a great role model but she is more of a role model for parents not for kids and what parent watches it any way also sue heck ' the middle' she may be dumb but she is also sweet loveable and just an all around great gal and alex dunphy 'modern family ' she is a smart and humors young lady why not add her to your list and what about jess 'new girl ' she is a very positive person and an all around good example for kids old enough to watch the show so why not add her
Teen, 14 years old written by beatricethebaticeer

As an avid watcher of Glee, I must say that I disagree with the inclusion of Finn Hudson on your list. Finn isn't a nice-guy role model, he is a deconstruction of that idea. A lot of his actions are incredibly insensitive and destructive,and he make a lot of his very messed-up version of "masculinity" and how that must be performed. An interesting character, yes, but not a role model.
Parent of a 12 year old written by Big Time Mom

Regarding Jesse: Well, I suppose you could say that Jesse is a role model, but the show itself it absolutely demeaning to adopted children, especially internationally-adopted children. I know the writers intend their depiction of Ravi (the boy from India) to be funny, but their stereotypical portrayal of his character is belittling. And how is it that Zuri -supposedly adopted from Africa at BIRTH - speaks as though she was raised in a household that speaks Black English Vernacular rather than the standard English her (adoptive) parents speak? Even if she were to have somehow been influenced by her birth culture and language, she should have an inflection from her native language in Africa, not an African-American inflection. You state that "young kids won't mind a bit" that Jesse's situation is not realistic, but as the parent of an internationally-adopted child, I mind terribly that you would recommend a show that perpetuates racist attitudes and saccharine attitudes about adoption.
Adult written by Brenalea

Ellen DeGeneres is a very good role model for kids and for anyone for that matter! She cares about people and it shows!
Parent of a 8, 10, and 13 year old written by shelyndy

@karMom and CSM --The inclusion of one role model you don't agree with removes all credibility from the site? Isn't that throwing the baby out with the bath water? Like any media outlet, you have to take what works for you and leave the rest. You won't agree with everything, but there is so much helpful information here. It saddens me that an apparently laserbeam narrow-mindedness is removing a valuable resource from your arsenal. Hopefully you were just using hyperbole in your comments.
Adult written by meisengrim

As a parent who is trying to raise caring children who appreciate diversity in culture, economic background, race, religion, and - yes - sexual orientation, I thought the inclusion of Ellen in this list was quite reasonable, for all of the reasons stated. While many people may have been turned off the site, this actually helps me as a new users of CSM ... it's clearly not a site run with a strong bias towards "traditional Christian family values", but is a site with some balance.
Teen, 15 years old written by queenofthelab96

I get Jamie Oliver and Rory Gilmore, and even Ellen. But, please, how is Glee's Finn a good role model? or that Jessie person? goodness...
Adult written by rgrossjr

Sad really. There is plenty of medical research that sexual preference is genetic, not 'choice'. No sexual preference is 'choice'. How can you be human and not know that innately. Could YOU suddenly decide to be attracted to same sex? Sure, you could just have sex, but that is not your sexual preference. Your sexual preference is driven by genetics for survival of the species. In some people it is different, which does not contribute to procreative survival, but it still happens. Just like you do not CHOOSE what type of person you are attracted to. Some of us are attracted to slimmer people, or voluptuous, or blondes, or heavier people, or whatever works for you. You don't say "I am going to prefer very skinny girls today". You just prefer them or you don't. I think it is hilarious that people who would be adamant that THEY could never be attracted to someone of the same sex, assume that other people must.
Teen, 14 years old written by Fullmetal Heatran

So it's fine that Jane from Jane and the Dragon wants to be a warrior, but when Goku and Gohan battle with enemies, they get put on the naughty list? Sure, maybe many of the characters on the list are good role models (I haven't heard of most of them, so I'm not entirely sure), but some of these people shouldn't be on this list (mainly referring to Ellen DeGeneres). And why are all of the role models for the under 6 crowd and teen girls? I think that the "top ten worst and best role models" thing is a good idea, but it would be great if there were a community vote or something, to make things more balanced. For instance, I'd personally add Ed and Al Elric (Fullmetal Alchemist) and Aang (Avatar) to this list. It would also be cool if there were lists for books, movies, etc. as well.
Parent of a 9, 11, and 13 year old written by Desmat

Well, I must admit, I am quite surprised at your choice of 'good' role models. You may want to revisit your list, or get a second opinion on them.
Adult written by Aloevera

Good role models on TV that we love.... Laura Ingalls and the whole Little House Series The entire clan from the Waltons Dr. Quinn Medicine Woman The Cosby Show, especially the mother
Adult written by kiddoc23

Being gay is not a "choice" nor unacceptable. Every gay parent I know is a far better parent than may of the heterosexuals parents I know. I should know since I am a physician who works with kids. Don't pass judgment on something you clearly know nothing about.
Parent of a 7 year old written by aegina

But kiddo, it's only those who don't know what they're talking about that post hateful comments. Research shows that the more gays you know, the less homophobic you are (substitute "blacks" and "racist" or "Jews" and "anti-Semitic" for more true statements.) Or maybe it's just because those of us who actually know gay parents have caught their horrible cooties... ;-)
Adult written by kiddoc23

Why is Ellen DeGeneres not a good role model?? She is kind, a strong woman and one who got past bigotry and adversity.
Kid, 11 years old

I'm sorry, did you just say that? Ellen IS a good role model. I think you need to catch up, mate. ~ IamBeth's reply to Ifmomof2
Parent written by Stacey P.

Ellen is on the good role model list...this is the good role model list..I don't understand what you're asking since she's on this list of 10 good role models...did I miss something?
Kid, 12 years old

Jessie as a role model? If you have seen that show it is no where near kid appropriate!!