Why Media Role Models Matter

There's no guarantee that a star will stick to a lifestyle that kids can look up to -- or that you'll approve of.
Caroline Knorr Parenting Editor | Mom of one Categories: Celebrity Influence on Kids, Media and Body Image
Parenting Editor | Mom of one

Media is a gigantic super-peer

 

As parents, we have a natural instinct to choose who we want our kids to be friends with -- and who we'd rather they not hang around. The same instinct kicks in for media role models. We like iCarly because she's smart and kind. SpongeBob? Maybe not so much.

In today's 24/7 media environment, in which kids may be spending more time with media than they are with their parents, choosing positive role models is more important than ever. At Common Sense, we often refer to media as "the other parent" -- that's how much influence it has in your kids' lives. Role models matter. Help your kids find good ones.

 

What it is

 

You don't have to look much farther than the Ariel costume in your daughter's closet or the lightsaber in your son's toy box to know that kids emulate their favorite characters.

By the time our kids are in middle school, they start to look to their peers for a sense of what's socially acceptable or desirable. Parents may remain the primary influence in their kids' lives, but the competition starts to get fierce at this age. This separation is entirely age appropriate. But when the media comes into play, the values you want to pass down to your kids may be competing against, say, Homer Simpson's.

 

Why it matters

 

Our kids' media environment goes way beyond television. Influencers reach out to kids via YouTube, video games, Twitter, and music -- all of which are broadcast or easily accessible 24 hours a day. And as we all know, not all the characters or people who gain popularity through these channels have stellar role model credentials.

Smoking is a perfect example of how media stars make things look cool. Studies show that exposure to pro-tobacco marketing and smoking in the media more than doubles the odds that kids will start smoking. And half of kids who start smoking say they do so because they saw someone they looked up to smoking in the movies.

The good news is that there are plenty of positive role models you can point to that may influence your kids to make healthy choices, learn to respect others, achieve goals, and avoid anti-social behavior. Negative role models -- especially ones who don't suffer consequences for their actions -- can encourage anti-social behavior, stereotypes, and even cruelty. Help your kids choose positive media role models who embody the values you want to pass down.

 

Tips for parents of young kids

 

Limit screen time. Kids grow and thrive best through personal interaction. Spending time with them, playing, and reading are great ways to build a foundation to impart your values.

Find age-appropriate content. Kids ages 2-7 should be exposed to media featuring good role moles, racial and gender diversity, and no stereotypes.

Encourage positive socialization. Look for role models who impart positive social lessons, like sharing and being a good friend.

Respect differences. Encourage kids this age to accept and respect people who are different by exposing them to media that includes people of diverse backgrounds.

 

Tips for parents of elementary-aged kids

 

Avoid stereotypes. Point out strong female characters or male characters who share their feelings. Try not to reinforce stereotypes in media selection (i.e. princess movies for girls and truck videos for boys), since that can reinforce societal imbalances.

Reinforce your values. Point out words and behavior in popular TV shows, websites, and music that are both positive and negative examples of what you do and don't want your kids to model. What you say to your child is up to you, but have the discussion.

Flag antisocial behavior. Children like to imitate and pretend to be their favorite characters. When characters say mean things or behave cruelly, discuss the consequences.

Go with the good stuff. Kids will be inspired by great historical figures, athletes, or TV stars. Take advantage of that adoration by pointing out their good traits, as in, "George Washington was honest. Honesty is an important quality." Not: "Lying is bad. Children who lie get in trouble."

 

Tips for parents of older kids

 

Embrace what they like. Rejecting your kids' love of popular culture can close off avenues of communication. Embrace their world, but establish clear boundaries about what you find acceptable and appropriate.

Help teens balance their need for rebellion and self-expression with an appreciation of acceptable social action. Kids need to understand how to communicate and use media wisely and ethically. If they engage with media that includes antisocial behavior, make sure they understand the impact and potential consequences.

Let older kids see things you don't agree with. But then discuss exactly what you don't like with them. Since we won't always be around, we need to make sure to instill critical-thinking skills in our kids.

Don't shy away from pointing the finger. If your kids (or their schoolmates) are heavy media users and they demonstrate or are on the receiving end of any antisocial behavior or experience eating disorders, addictions, low school performance or depression, connect the dots -- and disconnect the source.

 

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About Caroline Knorr

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 (7)

Adult written by Mouse15579

I think this is a very nice blog that you posted Caroline Knorr. The reason why is because we need very positive role models from tv shows and movies that represent us in our lives. The two positive role models that represent me the most are Dusty from Planes because of his kindness and Eloise from The Pirates Who Don'T do Anything because of her bravery.
Teen, 16 years old written by MoeJoe

Celebs are not role models. They are entertainers--like court jesters. They actually remind us of the trained monkey that'll do anything for a treat. Celebs will do anything for money. They constantly make complete fools out of themselves--this is what they are famous for doing. No one admires them. We laugh at them. Few celebs, if any, ever become role models--unless someone is an extremely shallow individual, it would be impossible to look up to celebrities because they live the lives of degenerates. Few appear to have any self-respect, any self-control or any self-discipline--what's there to admire? Role models are people who accomplish incredible works of wonder and awe and overcome incredible obstacles usually in an effort to help others. Celebs are people who are so self-centered, so immature, so desperate for attention that they are the opposite of role models--they are our modern day clowns.
Adult written by Senser123

I feel that You maybe right about celebs being our modern days clowns only they are part of the media circus and their publicists are the ringmasters running the show.
Adult written by Senser123

I feel that having a celeb role model (positive or negative real or fictional) is a 50/50 situation more so now then in the past but I also feel today's kids more than ever should be able to seperate the positive celeb role models from the contriversial on their own while looking more to their parents and/or gaurdians that goes for future generations too.
Kid, 9 years old

I'm kinda lost at words. You give help to parents with younger kids (3-7) and older kids (teen +) but not ones with tweens (8-13). Please give some advice.
Adult written by Senser123

Why don't you tell the parents and /or gaurdians to just talk with their tweens about what they are seeing and hearing in the media and also discuss the real life cons of unwelcome behavior if their celeb role models have acted out.