Importance of Role Modeling in Parenting

Family Eating Breakfast“Do what I say, not what I do!”  It’s a funny expression and one many parents can relate to. How many parents have told their child “don’t smoke” as they picked up their own cigarette, or talked about the importance of healthy eating as they ate potato chips in front of the TV? I can already hear you protesting. ‘But no one is perfect and I’m telling my children to make better choices than me,’ you say or, ‘My teen models behavior they see on TV; it’s the media’s fault.’ Unfortunately, research does not support those ideas.  Studies consistently show that parents are the most important role models for their children – peers and pop culture have influence, but not as much as parents. Research also demonstrates that children are incredibly observant about their parents and learn to behave in the same ways regardless of what their parents say. For example, they see how you handle stress or treat other people and mimic it. Leading us to another expression… “actions speak louder than words.”

Modeling is important because it is the primary way that children learn the values they will carry for life. Many a parent has moaned how their teen never listens to them, but you can be absolutely positive that he or she is watching everything you do. It is completely ineffective to insist your teenager behave responsibly while you make irresponsible choices yourself. Not only does it teach them the opposite of what you want, it can offend teens and cause them to see you as hypocritical. When it comes to children learning lessons, be sure you practice what you preach. Think through what you want to role model for your teen. Consider these questions honestly:

  • Is your life full of positivity, passion and purpose, or does your teen see you constantly worried or complaining about your job, friends, family, etc.?
  • Do you practice good anger management, compromise, and conflict resolution techniques with other people, or does your teen see you withdraw, stomp your feet, slam doors, or yell?
  • Do you take good care of your body, or does your teen see you eat junk food, continue to be overweight, smoke cigarettes or not exercise?
  • Do you use medication and alcohol with care, or does your teen see you use prescriptions in a way they were not prescribed or self-medicate a bad day with excess alcohol?
  • Do you pay bills on time and live within your means, or does your teen see you overindulge and live in debt?
  • Are you respectful to others, or does your teen see you criticize the way the news anchor talks or the way the actress dresses?
  • Do you cuss?
  • Do you gossip?
  • Do you lie? Perhaps telling the cashier your 12-year-old child is only 11 to get a discount?
  • Do you model compassion, caring for other people or volunteering your time?
  • Do you demonstrate an ability and desire to solve problems and to grow individually, or does your teen see you fearful, stressing at every problem like it is a major crisis, or avoiding anything new?
  • Do you model a balanced life, taking time for yourself, your family and your commitments, or does your teen already know not to ask you for anything because you’ve “got too much on your plate”?

These questions may be hard to consider, but you are showing your child every day how to behave. You need to be honest about what you are modeling. Although you may find opportunities that you think are appropriate to bend the rules a little, teenagers are not able to do this.

Smiling Family Posing in FieldIf you believe your teenagers look to the media for role models, limit the amount of time kids spend watching television and videos and increase the amount of time you spend with them.  Children are more likely to imitate parents if parents spend time with them.

Too often, parents fail to give their teens quality time. To show our children love – and yes, teens may roll their eyes, but they desperately need to feel loved – we must give youth affection, time to do fun things together, time to listen to what they have to say, and praise or words of encouragement. In addition to making a teen feel more confident, we are more likely to model our good behavior when we are spending more time with our children. Humans don’t learn a lesson in one moment. We learn things by repetition. So, when parents explain or model something once, their children may notice it, but it quickly fades away or may be too difficult to grasp completely. The constant repetition of an idea, and understanding the reasoning behind it (don’t forget to point out pros and cons of following certain values) is what ingrains a concept in our value system.

If you haven’t been doing a very good job at modeling, don’t be discouraged!  It’s never too late to get started! If you begin to follow your own best advice and model healthy habits, your achievements and example will encourage your entire family to live with more joy!

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