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

Role-Models-400x289by , Roots of Action

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 kinds 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 than 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.


Marylin is a developmental psychologist and founder of Roots of Action. I’m also a mother, stepmother, and grandmother with a passion for helping adults nurture young people who care about others, contribute to the social good, and act to improve the planet.

Roots of Action is designed to offer a blend of stories and insights drawn from theory and research in many fields, including child and adolescent development, education, positive psychology, and neurobiology. These fields offer the historical roots that help young people develop an internal compass with eight core abilities: Resilience, Learning, Social Skills, Caring, Self-Awareness, Creativity, Strategy, and Character.

If you are a professional in one of the fields mentioned above and would like to submit a guest article, please contact me. You can learn more about my work at Mpricemitchell.com, including speaking topics and services I provide to schools and organizations. You might also enjoy my column on adolescent development at Psychology Today.

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