Psychology has a lot to say about how children learn behaviours through observing role models. It says that the most effective models are often the same sex but of higher social status. Parents, family members, friends and people in the media are all role models for children. If a role model is seen to be rewarded for a behaviour, the behaviour is more likely to be copied. For example, if a young girl sees her older sister praised for baking lovely cakes she is more likely to copy her sister’s behaviour. Equally, if a young boy sees an older boy rewarded with respect and status for being involved in a gang, he is also likely to copy this less desirable behaviour. The key is to get the best role models for your children, which may be hard with constant exposure to badly behaved celebrities who still seem to get rewards in terms of fame and money. In a classic study Bandura, Ross and Ross (1961), found that when children observed an adult be physically and verbally aggressive to a plastic bobo doll, they were very likely to copy the behaviour. Boys were more physically aggressive than girls but there was little difference for verbal aggression. The children were also more likely to imitate same sex models. This study showed the impact that role models can have on children. So what can parents do to encourage their children to choose good role models? Knowing about your child’s social circle is a start. Naturally, I am very nosy so I know that I will have no problem trying to keep tabs on my son’s social circle once he is old enough to have one. Although, I am sure that when he becomes a teenager he will try his best to keep me out of it. However, it is when children reach adolescence that children are likely to run into problems. If parents know who their children’s friends are, they are able to encourage friendships with lower risk friends. You may wonder what constitutes a lower risk friend. Most parents probably have a sixth sense about children they would rather their own child wasn’t friends with. A rule of thumb is that those children who are close to their own parents tend to be lower risk. However, children who are older than your child, are more of a risk. Parents also need to take into account the behaviour of the most popular crowd at school as these children can act as role models. Judith Harris, an American psychologist, suggests that peers have a much greater effect on children than family. She argues that children turn into problematic teenagers if they are allowed to mix with unruly classmates from a young age. Most parents know this, which is why so many parents go to great lengths to get their child into the best school. Fortunately, schools are catching on to the importance of role models and many are now running peer-mentoring programmes. This is where older children in a school (who have been vetted and given training) support younger children in the school with any problems they might be having. Adolescent children naturally distance themselves from their parents so mentors become more important. Parents might want to look out for adult mentors in the community to guide their children through adolescence. These mentors might take the form of a sports coach, drama coach or scout/guide leader.
The importance of role models on children’s behaviour
February 5, 2012