TV's Best Role Models of 2014

With positive messages, healthy outlooks, and smart lessons, these characters and celebs are folks kids can look up to.
Sierra Filucci Executive Editor, Parenting Content | Mom of two Categories: Screen Time
Executive Editor, Parenting Content | Mom of two

From Elmo to Doctor Who, TV characters teach our kids lessons, make them laugh, and transport them to otherworldly places. And as many parents know, some TV characters are better influences than others. Though many kids are shifting to YouTube to find characters they can relate to, we estimate kids will still watch an average of 20,000 hours of TV before they turn 18, so it makes sense to steer kids toward the best role models we can find.

Each of these 10 TV characters has something positive to offer kids, whether it's as a trailblazer in a particular field or as someone kids empathize with as they manage familiar struggles. 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.

Neil DeGrasse Tyson, Cosmos: A Spacetime Odyssey
Why he's great: If you still need proof that nerds rule the world, Neil DeGrasse Tyson will make you a believer. As the host of the fascinating reboot of Cosmos, Tyson explains the quirks of the universe in a way kids and adults can understand.
What makes him extra-special: As the most well-known living scientist in the world, Tyson stands as an incredible role model to all kids but especially kids of color who so rarely see themselves reflected in the worlds of math and science.

Daniel Tiger, Daniel Tiger's Neighborhood
Why he's great: Daniel Tiger is someone kids can relate to. He's not perfect: He throws tantrums, he makes mistakes, he gets mad. But he also learns to talk about his feelings and find healthy ways to express them, all with the help of supportive adults. The songs he and his friends and family sing help his messages about emotional smarts really sink in.
What makes him extra-special: Created by the folks who made Mister Rogers' Neighborhood, one of PBS's early groundbreaking preschool shows, Daniel Tiger carries on the legacy of his kind and wise predecessor.

Anne, Annedroids
Why she's great: Anne is a genius without being a braggart, and she enjoys sharing what she knows to get others excited about the possibilities of science. When faced with a problem, she sees only possibilities, and no amount of failure ever dampens her spirit.
What makes her extra-special: In a TV landscape filled with tween fashionistas, Anne is remarkably unfocused on clothes and appearance. Her overalls are practical and comfy -- just what girls need to be free to play and create!

Kid President, aka Robby Novak, Kid President: Declaration of Awesome
Why he's great: Before launching Kid President: Declaration of Awesome, Robby Novak made a name for himself through YouTube shorts. His musings on life are inspirational in the best possible way: encouraging viewers to tap inner potential, make a difference, and appreciate the important things in life.
What makes him extra-special: Novak is a kid, so young viewers see someone similar to them who is spreading positivity and refusing to be cynical.

Jimmy Fallon, The Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon
Why he's great: Jimmy Fallon took a TV show dinosaur -- the Tonight Show -- and turned it into something relevant to young viewers, mostly by harnessing the power of the Internet. From performing hit songs with kindergarten instruments to holding lip-synching contests with famous celebs, Fallon taps into the social media-driven zeitgeist in a snark-free way.
What makes him extra-special: Though some critics have dinged Fallon for gushing too enthusiastically over his celebrity guests, his fanboy approach seems appropriate to his role as entertainer more than journalist, and his eagerness feels authentic.

Dora the Explorer, Dora and Friends: Into the City!
Why she's great: Dora's a bit older now, but her positive attitude and willingness to help a friend hasn't changed. She's still curious and enthusiastic, a natural leader, and proud of her heritage -- all great traits for kids to emulate.
What makes her extra-special: Her new show emphasizes helping out in the community, broadening her focus in an age-appropriate way.

Arthur, Arthur
Why he's great: Arthur is a sweet, curious, energetic, and studious 8-year-old who -- like most 8-year-olds -- has his fair share of worries and conflicts. But he resolves these issues -- and those of his friends -- by being thoughtful and kind and learning from his mistakes.
What makes him extra-special: Arthur has been easing kids through early childhood for 17 seasons, making him one of the most enduring childhood TV characters.

Anne Burrell, Worst Cooks in America
Why she's great: Anne Burrell may not be as big a Food Network star as Bobby Flay, but she can throw down in the kitchen with the best of them, and she hosts several shows on the network simultaneously. She has a no-BS approach to teaching her protégés on Worst Cooks, and she calls out female cast members for using their femininity to get ahead.
What makes her extra-special: Burrell stands out as one of the few Food Network stars who doesn't fit into a size 0 dress. Her realistic appearance, hard-core skills, and kind-but-firm attitude make her someone girls (and boys) can look up to.

Peg, Peg + Cat
Why she's great: Young Peg is confident, charming, fun-loving, and super good at math. She's eager to solve problems that involve geometry, fractions, and any kind of number.
What makes her extra-special: Despite major cultural efforts to encourage girls to pursue STEM-oriented careers, they're still underrepresented in computer science, math, and engineering fields. Peg is a part of changing that trend.

Tim Gunn, Project Runway
Why he's great: Tim Gunn somehow manages to be a reality star without participating in catty reality-show antics. He demonstrates respectful behavior at all times and models how to offer constructive criticism without being mean.
What makes him extra-special: Gunn has become a role model for both young and older folks by sharing his experiences both as a gay man through the It Gets Better campaign to prevent teen suicide and as a late-career changer on AARP commercials.

About Sierra Filucci

Sierra has been writing and editing professionally for more than a decade, with a special interest in women's and family subjects. She has a master’s degree in journalism from the University of California at Berkeley,... Read more

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Comments (10)

Teen, 14 years old written by hiphoph

Just as a note: It's 'Doctor Who', not 'Dr. Who'. The main character is named The Doctor, which is why the show it titled that, instead of it being Dr. for a medical professional.
Parent of a 9 and 11 year old written by Amalthea

"Dora the Explorer" a good role model? I can't say for the new one, but the original Dora was so annoying even my daughters couldn't stand to watch it. That stupid monkey always screaming "Say 'MAP'!" "Say 'BACKPACK'!!!", never a "please" or "thank you", nothing in the way of manners or treating others well. I'm so glad to have dodged THAT bullet. I'm also agree with the poster who mentioned the Kratt brothers: not only because of the reasons they listed, but also because it shows sibling cooperation and love. Replace Dora with Chris and Martin Kratt and I'll be happy.
Educator written by therealasanath

I am not sure that Stephen Hawking, nor I, would agree that Mr. Tyson is the world's most well-known living scientist. At best, they may be in a tie.
Teen, 16 years old written by Kronosaurus

I agree with this list, but how are Chris and Martin Kratt from Wild Kratts not up there? They're kind, caring and always willing to help both man and beast — all the while encouraging kids to care for the planet and its animals. Certainly they're people I would want kids to look up to.