This is really a small peep into how my teen has chosen his role models, and can I as a parent influence the choice. Right, so my teen’s role models are the two guys who go under the name of 21 Pilots. To name, it’s Tyler Joseph and Josh Dun. My young adult knows most of the band’s song lyrics by-heart and constantly encourages me to listen to one or another amazing song that he loves by the band.
21 Pilots as role models, their philosophy
When I asked him what he likes about these two individuals, his answer was rather interesting. ‘For me, I am not interested in them as individuals but more as the band: 21 Pilots. I like what the band stands for, I like their philosophy and their lyrics.’ Of course, when my teen is waxing eloquent about his fav band, I do not break his line of thought by asking him what their philosophy is. Instead, I later google them to find that their very name has been selected to represent a way of living, choosing between doing what’s easy and doing what’s right.
How role models impact the teens
I see this line of thinking reflected in my teen’s choices and behavior quite often, and am glad to see that he has picked a band that holds values high. And that they are Christians, (though not a Christian band) they have faith. To me, having faith in something, anything – is important. When you don’t have faith, you are like a ship without a rudder. You can choose to believe in Christ, or Mary, or Krishna, or any of the many Gods out there, or of course you can choose to be an atheist. That’s fine too, but you must know what you believe in, and in your mind your set of beliefs and life rules must be well defined. This gives you a structure to live your life by, else you will find yourself swinging in different directions every single day.
Tyler is a poet, their songs are poetry. My son writes poetry too, and he does say his work has been inspired by the band. His favourite album by the group is Vessel, he says the songs are more meaningful and the lyrics are more profound. I went through the lyrics, but was not able to connect much; maybe I am missing something there that he has discovered.
Can parents influence their teen’s choice of a role model?
When I checked with my teen how he would react if I told him that he ought to take Abraham Lincoln for his role model, his answer was interesting. ‘I will read up about him, see what he was like and figure out whether his line of thinking makes sense to me. I won’t accept him as a role model simply because you ask me to, but, ya, I would find out about him.’
This means, he is open to ideas and thinking; and it would make sense for me to connect him to the kind of role models I would like him to follow.
The problem with the historical heroes
I find that it is not so easy for parents to get the young teens to connect with those whom we consider ideal role models. You see, Abe Lincoln does not have music videos, he does not rap, he does not have instagram accounts or facebook accounts where today’s generation can find out what he’s been upto.
If he has to read up about Abe, my teen will have to refer to an online or an offline book, watch a few documentaries, and watch some historical movies. How does this compare to the hot and happening alternative music band ‘21 Pilots’? Well, Abe would fall short on so many counts.
Tyler and Josh have stories about how they grew to fame, how they played music in the local high school grounds before they made it big, and how they are grounded in what they do.
Where the difference lies
This connectedness, their interviews, sharings, their interaction with their fans, the fandom – the complete package makes modern day celebrities much more attractive role models for today’s generation than all those people we looked upto in our growing up years. The difference lay in the fact that before the advent of the internet, we would read about the likes of Lincoln and Edison in books, and contemporary celebs in the newspaper.
They would not share their everyday lives, and events and stories with us as social media allows today. This core difference in the access to the people we admire is making teens today choose their role models from the world around them.
Living legends: Why it makes sense for teens to follow them
From a growth perspective, the young teen pretty much has access to all technology, media and resources that the celebs do. The difference is social networks, but successes on Vine have shown that if you keep putting your work out there, you can be successful, you will be found. This, I believe, is a great inspiration to the young, where they realize that they have everything they need to become like their role models. They just need to follow the steps.
The flip side
The problem with following role models from your own generation, and I am sure every generation has faced this, is that you really do not know if the path the celeb is following is the right one. With people who have made history, their lives have been studied, recorded and analysed, and we know for a fact that the decisions they took, the values they upheld stood them in good stead.
Unfortunately the same cannot be said about living legends. Case in point: Lance Armstrong, Whitney Houston, Woody Allen, to name but a few.
I have looked upto each of these people in my growing up years only to realize that Lance’s victories were drug induced, Whitney ODed on drugs and died a sad death; and that Woody Allen has been accused of sexual abuse by his step daughter.
When role models fail you
You begin to suspect every success, look for loopholes that the currently popular celebrity may possibly have used to be successful. It makes you cynical.
But of course, this typically happens when you are in your mid-thirties, and the role models you grew up with have grown old along with you and are at the fag-end of their success run.
A Mom’s solution to Role Model Puzzle
Well, having looked at the issue from both sides, I realize there is no clear cut answer, and I can’t force my teen to look up to someone I like. I can introduce him, tell him stories about this person, but beyond that my teen will decide for himself.
A thought that comes to my mind today, is that maybe I should have started introducing the people I consider role models to my child earlier. While I have always encouraged reading in him, and he reads a lot on animals, nature and National Geographic, I never really paid too much attention to him reading biographies.
Would that have influenced him? Would he have found a conventional hero to follow earlier on through books and would that have impacted his thinking differently? I don’t know but it would definitely be worth finding out!
~ Bharti Athray