My first heroes were Roy Rogers, the Lone Ranger and Superman. They knew right from wrong, they stood up to the bad guys and they protected the vulnerable. They were powerful and they used their power for good. I wanted to be each of them at one time or another (picture a kid with a cowboy hat, a mask and a cape…that was me!). As the years went by, I came to understand that life is complex. Things are not always black and white. I also came to realize that at times, I behaved in ways that weren’t consistent with the values of my heroes. Fortunately, when that occurred, I had enough sense to be ashamed of myself and enough gumption to pick myself up, go back out and try to do better. Although I’ll never be Roy Rogers, the Lone Ranger or Superman, they set the standard that I strive to achieve.
I worry these days about where young people can find heroes. As I look over what I wrote above, I see several factors that are critical in the development of good character in young people. Obviously, our first role models are our parents. Everyone laments the disintegration of the family and I believe there is something to that. If a person didn’t have the opportunity to develop a strong, positive character growing up, they will have difficulty enabling their children to do so. I really believe there are still a lot of wonderful parents out there doing the best they can. With the stark economic reality impinging on the lives of many young parents, however, it’s just extremely difficult to manage your time between making a living and being a hands-on parent.
Teachers, coaches and other adult role models can still play an important part in helping young people develop a positive character. The three main ingredients in this process are: 1) Be aware that you are, in fact, a role model whether you want to be or not; 2) CARE about the young people within your sphere of influence; 3) Take time to be there. It is harder these days to be a caring adult mentor because of the appalling, despicable behavior of a small number of predatory adults who betray the trust of their young charges. That doesn’t mean you can’t do it.
When I look at potential heroes in the media these days, I feel rather discouraged. It seems as if we’ve come to glorify so many things that are negative- disrespect for women, disrespect for our laws, and disrespect for the personal safety of others (violence as the main solution to any problem). It’s so commonplace that “disrespect” has become a verb (it really ISN’T, folks!). I absolutely support the freedom of expression that is a cornerstone of our free society but I wonder where the responsibility for that freedom comes into play. If young people learn from your movie, book, video, etc. that in order to be powerful, you must beat up people and when they displease you, you “pop a cap” in them, where is your accountability in this?
Most of all, I wonder why all of us are so passive in accepting this state of affairs? Sure, we complain bitterly among ourselves (and all over Facebook!) but we don’t seem to get mobilized to express our displeasure and demand that things change. We can use our wallets to register our outrage…do NOT go see a movie that is full of gratuitous, mindless violence; do NOT buy video games that glamorize violence and the degradation of women. We can also find ways to reach out to young people through schools, libraries, churches and other community organizations and try to become a positive presence in their lives. I’d like to think that’s what Roy, the Lone Ranger and Superman would do.