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Does the media determine our children’s heroes?

By Sharon M. Smith

While standing in line at the checkout stand, we are barraged with headlines broadcasting news about Michael Vick’s involvement in dog fights, Lindsey Lohan in and out of rehab, Rodney Harrison’s apology for HGH drug use, Britney Spears accused of neglecting her children, and the continued controversy of Barry Bonds’ allegations of steroid use. Not only do we see it at the check-out stand, but hear it on the nightly news, search it on the Internet, and listen to it on talk radio.

How much does the media determine our kid’s heroes? So with the media blaring attention to celebrities’ mistakes, how do their actions affect our children’s view of them? Are our kids shattered when they hear of the news of one more drug intake by their favorite sport’s player or when another movie celebrity goes into jail? Do they have any connection to them or are they completely impersonal?

After asking several adults and children (varying in ages) how they would define a hero, they concluded with a variety of responses such as, somebody without regard for their own well being; who is not selfish; who would risk their life for somebody else; whose life you want to emulate; and dedicated to greater mankind rather than to their own advancement. While kids replied that a hero was somebody who saves people; helps another person; does something you can’t; and “makes me feel comfortable and safe like my grandma.” Webster defines a hero as “a [person] distinguished by exceptional courage and nobility and strength.” American Heritage adds that “a hero is a person noted for special achievement in a particular field” (and here is what I found interesting) listing its synonym: celebrity.

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Are celebrities really our children’s heroes? I started asking the same children and adults who their heroes were, expecting them to retort with comic superheroes, singers and athletes. I was surprised with their responses. Some responded with well-known heroes such as the rescuers from 911 for sacrificing their lives in attempt to save another, Hermione for being smart and loyal, and Martin Luther King for sacrificing his life for the greater good. While the others listed more common people such as a brother for always being there for her, a special-needs teacher for helping others on a daily basis, mom for making her daughter yummy lunches, dad who gets toys down that his son couldn’t reach from the shelf, single parents for their daily sacrificial commitment to their children, a sister who stood her moral ground, a friend who is always nice to others, and a grandmother allowing her granddaughter to feel safe.

There is a Web site called myheroes.com which tells of “ordinary people who have accomplished extraordinary things.” The list of heroes include: Dr. Edward Holland, an eye doctor who transplants corneal stem cells to help give people their sight back, Ravi Gulati, who has created learning centers for children with special needs in India, and Dr. Rokhaya Guey, by saving lives in Senegal and educating people in her community on ways to fight malaria and to protect their health by regular examinations and preventative care. My personal favorites were Sajani, who cleans roads in Indonesia to help the environment, and Joseph Marecel Shook Jr., as written by his younger son, because he “is a community leader, respectful to others, a hard worker, religious, respected by others, a family man and kind-hearted. My father has made many differences in my life. My father has taught me to be fair and to respect everyone…he has taught me to strive for my goals. He encourages me at my soccer games to keep playing my best,” he said. “My dad is my hero because of his constant caring about me and about our community.”

Ultimately, and yet not surprisingly, our kids’ heroes are you and me. We are the biggest role models in their lives. We don’t have to be successful in science, have received any awards in our lifetime, own the biggest house on the block, or have been recognized by the community to be a hero, but we do have a huge responsibility in our kid’s lives. We as a parent, aunt, uncle, teacher or grandparent each have the primary influence in our children’s lives. Our role in our child’s life is too important to be ignored or taken for granted. Showing up at their soccer game matters and how we treat other people matters (they notice and are watching us all the time). Yes, we mess up, but we can always go to our children and be honest about our mistakes. Let’s not leave it to someone else to set an example for our children. Mark Znidericz said, “Those whom our children admire, they will imitate.”