In the springtime, our county Extension team trained staff on easy activities they could offer to children at summer programs in the community. One of our messages to the adults: “Congratulations! You are a role model to the children”. The same message extends to parents as well as all other adults who have children within sight and hearing range. All adults have potential to play a valuable role in influencing children because the kids in our lives watch what we are doing. While this could feel like an exaggeration, it’s always best to make smart choices for ourselves and in so doing become a positive role model for the youth.
The term role model has a positive connotation but in reality, adults influence children and adolescents in both helpful and undesirable ways. Adults who make unhealthy choices for themselves also model, and therefore encourage those behaviors to the youth around them. What are some examples of making intentional choices as a positive role model?
Promote healthy and diverse food choices. Action for Healthy Kids encourages staff such as teachers to “Put a piece of fruit on your desk every day for a whole month. Eat it when you get hungry and show your students your healthy habits!” Choose MyPlate promotes healthy food choices from childhood through adulthood. Adults are encouraged to, “Try new foods yourself. Describe its taste, texture, and smell.” You don’t have to love all foods but be willing to try something new with the children in your life.
Use technology in beneficial ways. When it comes to screen time, Common Sense Media reminds adults, “Practice what you preach”. In addition to summarizing data about current media use, they also share advice for parents. A few tips include:
- be choosy about what you watch
- don’t use screens in the bedroom or right before going to bed
- create a family media plan to balance screen time with other activities in order to benefit both children and adults
Sports for the win. Sports activities are a great way for children and adults to add extra physical activity to the day and build team skills. Adults are not always the best role models when it comes to respecting others, playing fair and being a good sport. Penn State University Extension has suggestions to be a supportive role model to children at different ages. For example, when children are young, adults can help them learn basic physical activities like throwing, kicking and catching a ball. When they are older, adults can model clear communication, support to the adolescent, and encourage the child to continue learning leadership and life skills.
Get outside for some fresh air. Stretching beyond our interest areas and comfort zones can be beneficial for the children in our life. The Public Broadcasting Service shares examples about teaching children about insects and not screaming in fear. They encourage adults to “think about your own reactions when you encounter a bug” and then they share ways for adults to react in a calm way to model to children. You don’t have to love insects to encourage a child in their interest and learning process. If you are not an expert in any specific topic, check out a children’s book at the library and learn something new alongside of them.
Adults do not have to be an expert on any topic nor act perfect in order to have a positive role in influencing children. We don’t expect perfection from our children, and we encourage them to try new things, continue to practice and not give up. We should offer nothing less in our examples to them.