I spend a lot of time talking with young parents – preparing for baptism and after, in a variety of moments in a family’s life. One of the issues that surfaces from time to time is the impact of “role models” and “heroes” in our society. To whom do our children look up to? Whom do they wish to emulate and learn about? Maybe one answer comes from economics – that is where the young spend their money. Research reports that teens, 12 – 17 years old will spend tens of billions of dollars this year. Pretty amazing!
Our culture offers movie stars, super athletes, and reality TV actors combined with various singers and musicians who form the coterie of role models for many of today’s youth. And so it is that our children will seek to purchase with their available funds clothing, personal items, communication devices, and a host of other expenditures including, of course, entertainment following the creative marketing strategies of our time.
It seems to me many of our youth are yearning for more. They are searching for examples, models of how to live in a good way. It is one thing to teach them what to do and how they ought to live. It is another to show them by our example that we mean what we say. It is the “walk the talk” thing.
Most adults do not realize how closely they are being watched – the astute observation of adults by children is a constant activity. It is not that the children are “nosey” or anything like that. It is more that they are searching and trying to find their way in the world – and they look to adults for direction.
Many of us have memories of people who have inspired us: parents, grandparents, uncles, aunts, and relatives. And, there are often people outside of the home and family – like teachers, coaches, bosses, and parents of friends. These are precious memories. Indeed, if we keep this in mind, it seems we ought to try to offer similar support and examples to the youth in our own communities.
Finally, there is the powerful example of silence. If parents and significant adults say nothing in the face of the poor role models our culture puts forth, what is a child to think? Truth is, silence is assent. When there is a news story, TV show, film, or some incident that glorifies violence, sexual immorality, infidelity, and/or overall bad behavior, and a parent or other adults remain silent in the face of that – most assuredly the children around will pick up on that as tacit assent – saying “That stuff is OK”.
Our faith offers us heroes in many ways, usually in examples of self-sacrifice and service. One may think youth have no interest in such – but that is incorrect. I am certain many of our young people only await the chance to be of service, to give something of themselves. And it is a growing process. Most important is that they see the value of caring, giving, loving, serving and that true greatness is never found in “getting” rather only in “giving”. The greatest example of all is the Son of God, Jesus.