Teens Look Up to Parents, not Celebrities and Athletes as Role Models

Among today’s teenagers, celebrities are losing out to parents as role models. “The image of celebrities is false,” says Ariel Grant, a 16-year-old student at Banneker High School. “The lives that they seem to have are not how they actually live.”

Grant’s role model is her mother, an electrical engineer in the DC Metro system. “She always gives me good advice. I look to her for a good example,” she said. “She’s really positive and makes me believe that I can do anything.”

Grant’s views of her mother and celebrities mirror those of 1,100 12 to 18 year olds surveyed in the Weekly Reader Research for the American Bible Society. The survey, released early last month, dispels conventional wisdom that celebrities, athletes and entertainers are the primary role models teenagers look to most.

Instead, the survey found that 67.7 percent of the teenagers said parents are the most influential role models in their lives. After parents, 40.6 percent said teachers and coaches followed by siblings at 40.4 percent. Religious leaders, athletes and celebrities did not fare too well at 18.7 percent, 18.3 percent and 16.5 percent, respectively. When choosing role models, the teenagers surveyed said the most important qualities they look for include values such as honesty, integrity, loyalty and truthfulness. These responses are in contrast to the way teenagers responded to a 1988 University of Kentucky study of 384 teens and who influenced them most. In that study, 58% cited atelevision personality as their role model and only 15% said they looked up to their parents and/or family members.

Several local teenagers also told The District Chronicles that celebrities are loosing their power to influence them, too. “Celebrities represent hard work, but they also represent shallowness,” said Anaia Peddie, 17, another Banneker High School student. “They’re just there to entertain me.”

She, too, cites her mother and her mother’s friends as her role models. “They have all taught me to be more than the labels that people put on you,” she continued. “They make me want to strive to be as good as them or even better. They’re all really successful, educated, and ambitious. They represent all the things that strong women are.”

For Mohammed Jejan-Julloh, a Wilson Senior High School, it’s his dad who influences him most. “Celebrities these days are just looking for publicity; even if they do something good it’s only for acknowledgement,” he said, adding that his dad, a politician in Sierra Leone, is “very selfless and always thinks of others who are less fortunate.”

Today’s teens say the popular culture is focusing on distaste and low morality, where everyone just wants to display his or her wealth and not character.

“I don’t like how celebrities glorify the hood,” says Mamadou Gueye, a 16-year-old student at Woodrow Wilson Senior High School. “Some of them don’t have the right to the publicity.” Gueye’s role model is his grandfather, who owns a real estate business with his grandmother. They lead a modest and humble lifestyle, he says. “He’s the patriarch of the family; he’s very down to earth. He came from nothing and built a solid business,” says Gueye.

The findings showcase the importance of parents modeling the right behavior for their children, says Amarintha B. Carter, a 30-year education veteran with the Department of Defense Dependent Schools. A teen that has no good influences from parents or family members in his or her life becomes confused and lost, Carter said.

“A teen with either a bad or no role model is always looking for answers,” Carter said. ” Some have no sense of identity. They wouldn’t know the difference between right and wrong.”

Psychologists understand. Teens are looking for something that’s deeper, says Sebra Roberts, a professor of developmental psychology at Howard University. “There is a growing level of moral bankruptcy, a lack of spirituality in the media. No guidelines, everything goes,” she sadi. “They [teens] see Britney Spears going crazy and stars dying young and that is something they don’t want for themselves.”

Today’s celebrities have destroyed the glamour and sophistication that old Hollywood created which has pushed away teens, Roberts said. “They [teens] are looking for stability. They need people that can show them what roles to take in life. As long as their parents are grounded they are going to look up to them,” says Roberts.