FROM READERS: Help your children find the right role models

Friday, January 24, 2014 | 5:55 p.m. CST; updated 7:15 p.m. CST, Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Jimi and Cristi Cook teach veterinary medicine at MU and are the co-founders of nonprofit organization Be the Change Volunteers. They wrote this article for ColumbiaFAVS, where they are regular contributors.

In his controversial Nike-sponsored commercial created in 1993, Charles Barkley told the world that he was not a role model, he was not paid to be a role model, and he should not raise our kids — parents should raise their kids.

While we strongly agree with “Sir Charles” that parents should raise their kids and should be great role models for their children and other young people, that does not let him off the hook. Like it or not, paid for it or not, professional and collegiate athletes, recording artists and other celebrities are role models for millions of young, and not-so-young, people. Taking all the fame, glory, money and other benefits of celebrity without taking the responsibility that goes with it seems hypocritical, evasive and disingenuous.

Instead of saying, “Don’t look up to me because you cannot be me,” how about being a person that deserves being looked up to and modeled in those kids’ lives — whatever they become? Is what they become or who they become more important?

Please don’t misinterpret what we are saying. Parents definitely should be the primary role models, and parents definitely should help their kids decide which other people should and shouldn’t be role models. But, parents aren’t always in the picture, and the fact of the matter is that kids will always be star struck and look to people who can dunk a basketball instead of their parents when deciding how to act, what to say and what to do much more than we all would like.

So, the cop-out approach of saying, “I am not a role model,” which appears to be an epidemic in our society, is not realistic.

The good news is that being a great role model as an athlete, rock star or movie star is possible. We are not going to name names, but we can all think of several celebrities who are classy, humble and polite. We see big-time athletes who hand the ball to the referee after scoring a touchdown, raise their hand when they commit a foul or help their opponent up after a collision. We hear stars who convincingly credit God, family and colleagues for their performance, abilities and opportunities rather than spewing narcissistic rants regarding their personal greatness and superiority. Even the most competitive trash-talker among us respects the “good guys” and wishes our kids would be like them, don’t we?

So, how do we cure this epidemic? Is there anything we can do?

The media promote it, sponsors reward it and we all watch it and enable it. To be honest, we are not sure it can be cured, but think there are things we can do to “vaccinate” our kids against it.

Talk to them about who are and who are not good role models. Support good role models in your attendance, viewing and purchasing choices. Maybe even turn the television off when the “viruses are spreading.” And, yes, as Sir Charles suggested, be the everyday, consistent, strong role models our kids need!

As our dear friend Grant points out, though, remember that none of us are perfect role models, but we can even use those faults and failures to help vaccinate those who look up to us against making the same mistakes if we are honest with ourselves and them and “coach ’em up” right.

This story is part of a section of the Missourian called From Readers, which is dedicated to your voices and your stories. We hope you'll consider sharing. Here's how. Supervising editor is Joy Mayer.

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