The template for what makes a role model has changed. Once upon a time kids looked up to public figures like President John F. Kennedy and Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Today’s potential role models are more likely to include pouty pop tarts, bad boy rappers and the latest athlete to have a run-in with the law. Media saturation has a lot to do with it. The typical American child spends nearly five and a half hours a day with TV, radio, video games or the Internet. That’s the equivalent of a 38-hour work week spent with some undeniably questionable influences.
Tweens are especially vulnerable because the years between ages 10 and 13 are rife with experimentation. “They have a real struggle with self-identity and self-esteem issues. They’re working through who they are,” says Shepherd Smith, president of the Institute for Youth Development based in Washington, D.C., an organization that promotes positive choices and behaviors for children. In shaping their identities, tweens mimic those they admire. When teen songstress Avril Lavigne wore a sleeveless T-shirt with a tie, girls everywhere raided their dad’s tie rack. Similarly, boys want to wear the same brand athletic shoe as the one touted by iconic sports stars.
But role models don’t just impact fashion. They can also influence behavior. “There’s a huge correlation between early debut of unhealthy behaviors and lifetime negative consequences and addictions, such as smoking, drinking, drug use and sexual activity,” Smith points out.What Parents Can Do
How can you help your preteens counter the impact of raunchy role models? It’s not as hard as you think.