Someone to Look Up To

Who are the worst role models for teens right now? One website recently asked around 2,500 parents that exact question.  For girls, moms and dads claimed that Miley Cyrus was the worst role model for teen girls, followed closely by Lindsay Lohan, Kim Kardashian, Amanda Bynes, and Rihanna.  On the boy’s side, parents shared that Chris Brown was the worst role model for their young men.  Also included were Kayne West, Justin Bieber, Lil Wayne, and Charlie Sheen.

But these celebrities might not be as influential as you think.  As parents, I think that we often believe that the rich and famous are the primary role models our children respect.  That’s why I was pleasantly surprised to read a study by The Barna Group.  Barna asked a wide range of teenagers who they see as their primary role models.  Guess what?  It wasn’t celebrities.  And it wasn’t athletes.  It wasn’t even youth ministers or friends.  It was you!  Overwhelmingly, 13-to-17-year-olds identified their parents as the people they look up to the most!  Though it might be daunting to be in that position, aren’t you glad to hear that you’re the main role model, rather than some random, and not-too-upright, celebrity?  Teens need healthy role models, and they’re looking to mom and dad to fill that role in their lives.  Here are some tips on how to be a good role model for your kids:

Consistent Relationship

In that same Barna Group study, the large majority of teens polled indicated that the people they most admire are those with whom they maintain a personal connection to, or have a relationship with.  Sure, our kids may envy people with the talent to hit a baseball out of the park, or act in a blockbuster movie, but the people dominating the headlines are really just strangers.  For the most part, teens realize that the stars of stage, screen, and stadium are simply names and faces.  They can see what these people do, but teens don’t really know what these people are like.  Unfortunately, when the curtain is pulled back, and we get an inside peek into the private lives of stars, we often don’t like what we see.  That’s why teens are looking to imitate people they interact with on a daily basis.  They are searching for models that can show them how to have a good marriage relationship, how to handle finances, ways to deal with stress and difficult circumstances, and how to talk with other people.  They need models of faith and good character.

Here’s the truth; you may have a lot of qualities your teen can respect, but they cannot see those qualities play out in your life if you don’t have a solid relationship with them.  For teens, wisdom is gathered through observation, reflection, and experience.  In that sense, as we strive to be good role models for our kids, there are three questions we must ask:

What do my teens see me doing on a daily basis? (observation)

What am I asking my kids to think about regularly? (reflection)

What am I exposing to my kids consistently? (experience)

It’s only within the boundaries of a secure and healthy relationship that your kids can look up to you as a model to follow.  So if there is distance between you and your teen, dedicate some time to closing that gap.

Ask Questions / Discover Answers

A good role model is someone that your teen is comfortable with – someone he can ask any question that’s on his mind.  Now, if you’re like most parents, a question free-for-all scares you!  We may be nervous about answering questions from our teens about delicate issues like drugs, sex, or suicide.

The topics and subjects that we whispered about in dark corners when we were growing up are no longer taboo conversation pieces.  The questions we wouldn’t dream of bringing up to our parents are now being openly asked by our teens.  And they deserve an honest responses from us. But maybe it’s not the awkwardness of the questions that bothers you.  Maybe it’s the fear of not having the answers your teens are looking for.

Look, being a role model is not about having all the answers.  Because you won’t.  You can’t!  However, your kids will respect you for not shying away from those tough questions.  Work on finding an answer with them.  Don’t worry about always having the perfect response.  If your teen stumps you, say, “You know, that’s a really good question.  Let’s see if we can find the answer together.”  A role model hears and responds to the tough questions in a way that engages teens.


When asked one of the reasons why they choose a particular person as a role model, many teens in the Barna Group study said, “because they help me be a better person” and “they are really interested in my future.”  Makes sense, doesn’t it?  That’s because encouragement plays a key part in being a role model.  It starts with supporting your son and daughter when they try new things, or explore new areas of life.  It continues as you help and guide your teen towards maturity and solid character qualities.  Being a model of encouragement also means praising your teen when she gets it right, and not shaming her when she makes a mistake.

A good role model would never say, “I’m not surprised you messed up in this area.  I could see that coming before you even started.”  Nor would they ignore a child’s achievements.  Instead, a role model intentionally points out a teen’s gifts and abilities; “This dinner is excellent!  You really know what you’re doing in the kitchen.”  Or “You really care about people, and I love that about you.”  Encourage your child, and they will, in turn, look up to you.

Mark Gregston

Mark Gregston is the founder and executive director of Heartlight Ministries, a residential counseling facility for adolescents in crisis. He is also a popular radio host and speaker and leads parenting seminars across the country. He and his wife, Jan, have served families and counseled youth for more than 40 years. They have two grown children and four grandchildren.