Young People’s Role Model Choices

In literature, heroes and heroines are typically described as enduring, highly capable individuals with clear, unblemished virtue. However, a hero is more than just a virtue. A hero is a human being or an imaginary character who, against insurmountable odds, overcome adversity by exhibiting traits of strength, courage, or imagination in the face of grave danger.

Just like other previously solely gender-specific terms, like hero, heroine, and villain, hero can be used to describe any sex, though heroic imagination often refers to only women. Also, heroes can be described as powerful, cunning, and independent, while villains are usually evil or malicious. Heroes and heroines do not have superpowers or abilities beyond normal human capability; however, they do have some degree of ” supernatural ” ability.

For children and young people, heroes are role models. This is because most boys admire and identify with heroes. The most admired heroes are usually sportive, inventive, courageous, honorable, and caring; while the least admired heroes are usually selfish, treacherous, lazy, and callous. Most children identify with some combination of these defining characteristics, and heroes are an important part of their socialization process.

The percentage of children who identify with a heroic figure is surprisingly low, at around ten percent. Youth experts believe that this low level of heroism is due to the relatively recent development of our psychological and sociological structure. During the last two decades, a significant percentage of youth have come to see the world as composed of weaker individuals who are less capable of doing the things necessary for survival. These negative self-image beliefs about the normality of other human beings have been deeply influenced by popular culture, which has consistently presented strong, self-referential heroes. Thus, for most kids, there is no room in their heroic imagination for other human beings.

Fortunately, however, this does not mean that they are forever destined to be without heroic role models. Luckily, we have an easy way of making sure that they do have role models to emulate. Social workers have identified and worked with a number of youth organization organizations that embody a range of positive characteristics. These organizations give young people the opportunity to develop healthy relationships with one another, while gaining the confidence that they have enough in themselves to make responsible and heroic decisions. They also give these children the opportunity to become caring, constructive citizens when they get older. These social heroes can help pave the way for tomorrow’s heroes.

This view of young people and their role models offers an important insight into human nature. People are naturally drawn to recognize and to imitate qualities that they see as heroic. We watch, imitate, and accept attributes of heroic characters in literature, movies, music, and television. Our heroic imagination fuels our drive to identify with, and our willingness to act on, heroic figures and activities. Our willingness to do so gives us the energy to overcome the challenges that lie ahead.

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