10 Great Role Models for Boys

What do Daniel Tiger, John Green, and Ansel Elgort have in common? They're all great role models for modern boys. By Caroline Knorr
10 Great Role Models for Boys

Let's play fill in the blank: "You swing like a g---"; "Boys don't c--"; "Be a m--." If you think it's easy to guess the answers, imagine how boys feel. From chisel-chested action stars to scorched-earth video game heroes to tough-talking TV guys, the media's images, characters, and messages are loud and clear: to be a man, you must be intimidating, stoic, and domineering.

These cultural stereotypes are not only dated, they're not true. And they can limit boys from developing their full potential as sensitive, nurturing, and authentic human beings.

But new role models are emerging, in both traditional and new media. Alternative entertainment that doesn't stick to the same old script, such as indie games, podcasts, and YouTube shows, presents characters with depth, feelings, and flaws. Fathers are being shown in more nurturing domestic roles. And even boys themselves are getting an opportunity to voice their beliefs, and they're rejecting the old stereotypes.

Here are 10 male role models that are truly inspiring.

Daniel Tiger, Daniel Tiger's Neighborhood. If you want your preschooler to learn positive traits such as loyalty, compassion, and even emotional flexibility, Daniel Tiger is your man -- ahem, tiger. 

Ash Ketchum, Pokémon. Watching Ash's personal journey from stubborn and brash amateur to patient Pokémon trainer, loyal friend, and wise strategist, kids can learn the value of perseverance.

Manny Delgado, Modern Family. Played by Rico Rodriguez, Manny is the poster child for giving 110 percent to anything you believe in. When he falls off the horse (for example, gets rejected by a love interest), he climbs right back on, demonstrating an enviable level of determination and resilience.

Ansel Elgort, Insurgent, The Fault in Our Stars. This born-and-bred New Yorker defies the tough city-kid stereotype. He's a model of sensitivity and support, both in his movies and in real life, where he never fails to give props to his costar Shailene Woodley. Nor is he afraid to tap dance with Jimmy Fallon.

Rhett & Link, Good Mythical Morning. These talented and creative comedy partners find ways to riff off each other without insults, put-downs, or boundary pushing. In an age when lots of kids are eager to practice their video skills, Rhett & Link demonstrate how to do respectable online entertainment.

Neil DeGrasse Tyson, Cosmos: A Spacetime Odyssey. Not many astrophysicists have the charm, telegenic looks, or gift of explaining complex concepts in easy-to-understand terms. But Neil DeGrasse Tyson -- who famously championed the downgrading of Pluto to a dwarf planet against very heavy opposition -- has made a personal and professional career of going against the grain.

Dr. Leonard Hofstadtr, The Big Bang Theory. Played by Johnny Galecki, Leonard is the glue that holds a group of ragtag misfits together. He's a brilliant scientist, but he doesn't act like he's better than other people (the way his infamous nerdy roommate Sheldon does). He looks for qualities that unite people rather than divide them.

Michael Sam, Dancing with the Stars. The first openly gay football player to be drafted into the NFL, Sam has achieved a lot through hard work, defying expectations, and being true to himself.

John and Hank Green, The Fault in Our Stars, Paper Towns, the VlogBrothers. Through John's books, the brothers' vlogs, and their joint personal appearances throughout the country, these two have connected to -- and provided meaning for -- the trickiest of groups: tween and teens. They send the message that living fully means facing uncomfortable issues, giving teens permission to express their messy, complicated selves.

Terry Crews, Brooklyn Nine-Nine. This former NFL player looks tough, but he's far from a stereotypical macho man. In his book, Manhood, he reveals that he's a feminist and criticizes the idea of the "man code," which justifies treating women as trophies. 

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About Caroline Knorr

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As Common Sense Media's parenting editor, Caroline helps parents make sense of what’s going on in their kids' media lives. From games to cell phones to movies and more, if you're wondering "what’s the right age for…?"... Read more

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Comments (18)

Adult written by Orangedragon17

It's about time Ash Ketchum get the parental respect he rightfully deserves! He's one of the finest role models in TV's history. He's compassionate, he perseveres, works hard, puts the needs of the world before his own, and teaches us many other things such as respect over glory, don't be a bully, and being integral to the world.
Teen, 15 years old written by TheAlmightyCastform

From Steven Universe, Steven is a great role model for boys, maturing as he grows up while still showing his genuine feelings, and Greg is a loving and caring dad to Steven, and the most selfish thing he ever did was pretend his leg was still broken so he could be with his son more.
Adult written by Eric B.

As a man, I have to really disagree with the recommendation of Manny Delgado as a role model. He is the farthest thing from a proper male role model for kids. The character Manny is very much maladjusted, overly emotional and far, far too much places women on pedestals, a trait that is very non-masculine, and is actually off-putting and insulting to women. (Except perhaps his mother.) The character Manny has never developed his own interests, or developed any skills that demonstrate mastery in any field. He is flummoxed by the simplest tasks, and easily manipulated by others. He bends to any wind that takes him the direction he wants, that is, towards the affection of a woman. He has no values, no moral convictions and no skills to stand up for any. He is a comedic character, and these flaws that you seem to admire are what make him a parody of men, not manly at all. No comedic male characters on TV are masculine role models. (Including Leonard Hofstedder.) He is NOT a masculine role model in any sense of the word. Never ask a woman for examples of male role models.
Adult written by GoruchDiogenes

The men I hold in the highest esteem would be -Marcus Aurelius Antoninus. By nature, a humble sage. By profession, a ruler and conqueror. (ignore that stupid Ridley Scott movie) -Wong Fei Hung. A peaceful doctor and healer caught up in turbulent times. -Glenn Gould. On the Internet where "autist" and "sperg" are all too common slurs and/or shorthand for (over)simply being socially awkward, and music tastes lean towards whatever newest "x-metal" and "x-core" subgenre that's just been made up, kids with a genuine interest in the finer points of music could do a lot worse than turn towards the last great master of the baroque. Honorable mention to Peter "PDQ Bach" Schickele. After half a century, he's still a god to immature, but serious students of music. -Charles Babbage. Another great famous aspie. Check out the webcomic/book The Thrilling Adventures of Babbage and Lovelace. After Benedict Cumberbatch's brilliant performance of Alan Turing, he should try that role. Maybe opposite Danica McKellar as Lady Ada. -Douglas Hofstadter. Godel, Escher, Bach really should be required reading for highschool graduation or college entrance.
Teen, 13 years old written by north wind

Actually my role model from my childhood is Charlie. I know that people say he is a bad influence, but I have to disagree. He makes bad decisions and he suffers the consequences, and he also has the power to change. Charlie is such a great character and so alive, he really acts like a real persons, he has his flaws, his weaknesses .
Adult written by Tundra

Well, when I saw the title of this piece on Comcast, I had high hopes for this article. Sadly, I was disappointed. Frankly, I find this article to be pretty anemic compared to Sierra Filucci’s piece on role models for girls, which features not just traditional greats like Amelia Earhart and Maya Angelou but recent Nobel Peace Prize winner Malala Yousafzai – poor Ash Ketchum doesn’t stand a chance. I will grant you that maybe the scope of the article was meant to focus on TV role models, but then it should have been titled as such. You call out as progress shows which present fathers as nurturing and domestic. That’s all fine and good. But if you want to address role models for boys, maybe it’s time to speak to the ridiculous way fathers and husbands are generally portrayed.
Teen, 13 years old written by geekkid

Hiccup from How To Train Your Dragon and a few of the male characters from Detentionaire. I'm surprised Hiccup's not mentioned.
Teen, 17 years old written by THEDARKSOUL789

I think your father or mother is the best role model for any kid no matter what they do or did there want to push you forward in life.
Kid, 12 years old

I think that I would replace Michael Sam with Tim Tebow any day of the week. Tebow, a football player that stands up for his faith, even if it keeps him from getting a contract. He's gotten what he's been deserving though, as he just signed with the Eagles. Sam is gay. Nothing left to be said except that I would put Hiccup, from How to Train a Dragon. He's not a real person, but still does the trick for being a role model.
Adult written by boatbaby

Role models do not live in electronic boxes in an imaginary world. Disappointed at the picks for the most part. Why not choose real people doing real things?
Adult written by valannm

Lots of homophobes out there. Get out much? The list is not bad and we like the Director of the Hayden Planetarium very much. He is a fantastic role mode.
Adult written by adfaughn

I appreciate the effort of this list, but I can't agree with several of the entries. There may be a good character in some of these shows, but just saying that someone in (for example) "Modern Family" is a good role model does not mean a boy should be watching that program. Wouldn't it be more consistent with the overall concept of this website to select role models from programming that all boys should be able to watch without moral reservation? Sad to see CSM obviously slanting in pushing the leftist agenda through this list. Maybe you need a bit more common sense to find men and boys in the media with those "old-school values" that surely kept America strong for so long. Instead of worrying about being "true to ourselves," maybe we need to teach our boys to be true to God, country, and others first, and not put ourselves in the primary role.
Parent of a 12, 15, and 18+ year old written by surrealmoss

I agree that these choices show a very harsh political slant. And it rubs me the wrong way. If this is the type of lifestyle you will be pushing, count this former CSM fan out.
Adult written by Sgpratt

Neil DeGrasse Tyson is a self-aggrandizing publicity hound who has been caught repeatedly embellishing or just plain making stuff up in his "lectures". He's the Dr. Oz of physics. I agree he's a useful tool for teaching children...teaching them of the dangers of arrogance and fame.
Parent written by FinleyMom

Dear Common Sense Media, Please stick to detailed movie reviews and leave the moral editorializing/opining out. This is the second or third "listsicle" style to show up in my inbox that is having me seriously question whether or not the snapshot reviews of movies & tv shows is worth subscribing. Come to think of it, as I type, I'm done. Time to "unsubscribe me." Y'all have a good day.
written by Amalthea

Don't forget that he was able to overcome a severe handicap, after losing his leg.

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