The role models of a modern generation

Sue Mason

Sue Mason is a cognitive behavioural therapist who has developed an education programme based around techniques that are associated with this style of therapy (CBT). Sue passionately believes that in bringing these coping strategies into schools to be presented to children of approximately ages 7 – 13, and delivered in an age appropriate fashion, is undoubtedly the first steps to achieving a lifelong happy and healthy mental wellbeing.

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Pictured above; Nick Vuijicic. Image credit: Huffington Post Pictured above; Nick Vuijicic. Image credit: Huffington Post

There is no question that the technological age has changed all aspects of our lives: our constant need to check social media, scroll through our emails and post our whereabouts is almost becoming an obsession. Initially, findings discovered that this phenomenon was mostly prevalent amongst teenagers, however recent research has revealed that middle-aged women too have succumbed to the technological age, perhaps in a bid to ‘keep-up’ with their offspring, or maybe a way to while away a little ‘down time’ – a release from the humdrum of ‘normality’.

My concern in the latter years, however, has been another offshoot of the New Media Age; in our previous generation, our role models included our favourite sportsperson, a successful charitable fundraiser, an award winning actor, a war hero, and now we encounter amongst some children of today that the epitome of heroism is a ‘YouTuber’, a Kardashian, a ‘star’ from The Only Way Is Essex, or the latest character from a bestselling Xbox One game. Granted, I’m generalising, of course not all children feel like this - however, it is becoming more apparent than ever that children are looking online or at reality television to find someone worthy of their adulation.

So after sharing my own thoughts on the subject with friends, we entered some heavy discussion, and feelings were as such – "Pupils don’t have the same role models as we did when we were in the throes of adolescence."that indeed our younger generation don’t have the same role models to aspire to as we did when we were in the throes of adolescence, and certainly it is a subject that should be tackled at school to ensure that pupils are being steered in an appropriate direction by whomever it is they are holding in such high regard that they would deem them to be their ‘role model’.

With that in mind I decided to enter upon a quest to go straight to the very people who may possess the answers to my questions – the pupils and the answers may surprise you.

The definition of a role model is ‘a person looked to by others as an example to be imitated’, I gave the children choices:

  • TV/reality/YouTube star.
  • Parent/loved one/friend.
  • Sportsperson/actor/singer.
  • Other inspirational figure.

As a starting point, I decided I would ask my own children. My 16 year old daughter, without hesitation, stated Beyoncé. This didn’t surprise me at all, and I suspect it would be the answer of many an ardent fan of Queen Bee herself. I enquired as to her reasons, and she very passionately replied - ‘she’s inspirational to women’. I was more than happy with this as justification for her choice.

I then invited the opinion of my 14 year old son. He informed me that I was his role model (I guess the answer every parent would love to hear!), however, it was his ‘in second place’, that surprised me, ‘the man with no arms or legs’. He is talking about a very inspirational figure called Nick Vujicic – a gentleman I introduced to my children some time ago, when his story was shared with me, and brought tears to my eyes and a surge of determination that I have never quite experienced before. The fact that this stayed with my son, made me very proud indeed.

I carried on with my research, asking many different ages of learners from different walks of life, and diverse upbringings. What I discovered taps into my studies as a cognitive behavioural therapist – we need to slow our thoughts down, digest questions and then respond, because consequently it can bring about a very different response.

Initially the pupils aged between approximately five and seven would state such figureheads as ‘mum’ and ‘dad’, ‘nan’ and ‘grandad’, we had some pets, some friends (no gender distinction). I had a ‘Peppa Pig’ and ‘Jade from Little Mix’. Generally, with the children in this age group, when I asked them to stop and think about it again for one minute, they would then state the same answer.

I then decided to move up to my next age group, seven to 11 – the children of Junior School age, where gaming and watching YouTube seems to become a staple activity of their every day. Interestingly, upon asking the same question, in the first instant, the answers were quite different to that of the younger children. ‘Dan TDM’, came many answers from the boys (a famous YouTuber I believe), then a whole stream of other YouTube stars followed from both the boys and girls (all of which I’m afraid to say I had not heard of!).

We then encountered the ‘Perrie from Little Mix’ and ‘my best friend Lily’ from the girls, and a catalogue of football players from the boys. The girls liked to share that their friends were their role models (always to ensure that I understood that their friends were ‘only the girls’!), to which the boys would give a chorus of ‘pah, we don’t like you anyway’. It is then when I ask the children in this age category to ‘stop’ and ‘think’ for a couple of minutes that their answers change considerably.

‘Oh my mum’, came the cries from many children; ‘Oh my dad’s in the army – he’s definitely my role model’. ‘My "Allowing children time to think can change their physical or emotional response."nan’s amazing, she always has loads of time for me’. ‘Stephen Hawking, he’s so inspirational’. To which all the other pupils see where they can take this thought. Then still accompanied by the members of Little Mix, I hear the words from the back of the room ‘my teacher’, again this prompts other children, ‘oh yeah – Miss, she’s great’, ‘The Queen’, ‘Barack Obama’, and so it goes on…and on!

The gargantuan power of stopping and thinking is very apparent throughout this research I have done. Generally allowing pupils time to think after we have asked something of them, can often change their physical or emotional response and often prove very significant to the outcome.

Discovering whom it is that is worthy of the admiration of your pupils can be very telling.  Giving children time to absorb said question, and to contemplate the answer can enable a teacher to establish the ‘deep thinkers’ amongst the class; perhaps the pupils who wish to amuse their peers, or the children that seem to be abreast with the latest news. The simplicity of this question makes it relevant to children of all ages, and to make a child aware of the importance of somebody ‘to look up to’, ‘to admire’, or ‘to strive to be like’.

In this day and age, I believe it is vital that children find someone ‘real’ to receive their admiration; someone who has achieved through hard work, who possess resilience and good humour, someone kind and respectful, a person who is selfless in their actions, a person who inspires, a good person.

And my role model, just in case you were wondering – well it tends to vary on a regular basis (which I’m not sure is right or not!), however, right now it is a man called Ben Smith who has run 401 marathons in 401 days and has raised £250,000 for two charities (Stonewall and Kidscape) to help support the tireless work they do – now that’s what I call a role model.

Do you discuss your pupils’ role models? Share your stories below.

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