When we are young, we are always looking to others for cues. We are impressionable, absorbing information from our surroundings. It’s hardwired into our system to copy the way other people act in order to be a part of society. We pick up information about everything—how to walk, talk, eat, think, relate.By doing so, we figure out how to do things for ourselves. We learn from our relatives, our teachers, our friends, and even celebrities. But our biggest influences remain the people around us.
Of course, when these people don’t set the best examples for us—whether it is because they don’t know how, or through their absence, or because we’re looking in the wrong place, there’s a problem. Because kids copy what they see, bad behavior perpetuates. They often don’t even realize that some of the things they are doing are wrong, simply because they don’t know any other way. This is why good role models are valuable.
Role models are important. Kids are going to look up to someone they respect, regardless of whether that person is a good influence or not. If we can provide kids with examples of people who are successful in a variety of careers, who have graduated from high school and maybe gone on to college, with supportive friends and family, they will see a better way to live. Especially when they can see some of themselves in another person, they will realize that anything is possible for them through hard work and a little help from supportive people around them.
But most of all, kids want someone to pay attention to them. They aren’t looking for some kind of perfect millionaire with all the answers. They want to believe that they matter to someone. Unfortunately, for whatever reason, kids don’t always get that at home. What kids need is someone who is willing to play catch with them, who teaches them how to change a tire, who shows them an easier way to solve equations. Someone who is interested in what they’re interested in. Sometimes it really is the simple things that go a long way. You probably remember the first time you rode a bike without training wheels or successfully tied your shoe, or the first time the ball actually landed in your glove during a game of catch. Was somebody there with you, patiently showing you what to do or cheering you on? Do you remember how you felt knowing you had somebody like that in your corner?
If you were lucky enough to have somebody there for you, you know what an impact it can have on your confidence. Having somebody to turn to for advice, a shoulder to lean on, or just a receptive ear can mean everything to somebody trying to figure something out or having a difficult time. It doesn’t take up much of your free time or make a significant dent in your finances. And you will likely walk away feeling pretty good yourself, knowing that you made a difference in the life of someone who could definitely use it!