Inappropriate Teen Role Models

Role models are basically individuals that serve as an example by asserting influence over others. Parents and immediate family members as well as caregivers are usually the first and most important role models earlier in life. As they start to approach their teens, their social circle starts to grow larger – teachers, tutors, coaches, friends, colleagues and peers become more closely relatable idol figures. And once TV, radio, computer and the internet start to be a major part of their lives, attention quickly shifts towards emulating celebrities, athletes, characters, TV heroes, and even politicians. With all these external influences, how can you as parents help your teens to identify an acceptable role model?

Talking and discussing the issue with your child can possibly help him/her to make better choices and help you understand them:

  1. Ask what values they appreciate in their role models.
  2. Reference some people that you think are more appropriate idols to be followed based on their accomplishments or contributions.
  3. Share some good examples of role models that you yourself grew up to idolize and why.

Negative influences can originate from various role models and contrary to popular belief, it does not necessarily have to come from celebrities or public figures. In fact, teenagers are more influenced by role models that they can communicate and form relationships with.

Social Learning Theory

The theory by Albert Bandura of Stanford University (1971) describes how learning through modelling or imitative learning in humans can best be achieved if a person has

  1. the motivation to act
  2. an example of the desired behaviour
  3. performed the desired behaviour
  4. been given positive reinforcement

Some teenagers may look at their role model’s negative behaviour or misconduct as something typical, safe and acceptable; this, coupled with peer pressure, becomes quite a formidable issue to deal with. However, when this happens, parents should step in and intervene by explaining to the child why things like smoking, drugs and alcohol abuse, sexuality, race and gender stereotypes among other things, are not acceptable.

Before your teen starts taking up bad habits, why not pre-emptively:

  1. Remind your child that people, even role models make mistakes and that everyone has both good and bad qualities but that we should always be able to distinguish between the two.
  2. Instil positive behaviour and good moral values early in their lives and follow through these practices by setting an example and maybe do some activities such as volunteer work together as a family.
  3. Get your child to be more involved in the community or community-based programmes or encourage them to be more engaged in religious, athletical or cultural activities.
  4. Help them become role models themselves through imitative learning. Even the simplest of things like – a friendly gesture to a neighbour, parking in the right space, being on time and courteous on the road as well as other likewise habits that help make society a better place – can be positive behaviours worthy of emulation. It teaches your child that good deeds, basic social etiquettes and exemplary behaviour don’t need to be rewarded in anticipation nor advertised for it to be done; it should be sincere.


It would be impossible and impractical to keep your teen in check all the time or monitor their every move and control their every thought. Instead, a far smarter and less exasperating move would be to educate and act as an exemplary role model yourself. Finally, like anything else in a working and healthy family unit, love, respect, understanding and tolerance are important keys in raising a child, coincidently – they’re also good role model characteristics.

An educational contribution by Malaysian Association for Adolescent Health.

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