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What is a Role Model? Five Qualities that Matter to Teens

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TEENS SPEAKING OUT

TEENS SPEAKING OUT

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When teens speak, do people listen?

Natalie, age 18, described her role model as a person with “a clear sense of what is important to her, putting forth the effort to improve and create things that will make a difference.” When Samira, also 18, feels “lazy, tired, or just plain annoyed,” she thinks of her role model and “is motivated to start working again.”

Natalie and Samira were part of my research study on how young people develop the skills, abilities, and motivation to become engaged citizens. They and 42 other college students recalled stories of their childhoods and adolescence and the kind of people who inspired them.

Role models come into young people’s lives in a variety of ways. They are educators, civic leaders, mothers, fathers, clergy, peers, and ordinary people encountered in everyday life. This study showed that being a role model is not constrained to those with fancy titles or personal wealth.  In fact, students were quick to state that “a true role model is not the person with the best job title, the most responsibility, or the greatest fame to his or her name.” Anyone can inspire a child to achieve their potential in life.

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