Sunday, October 12, 2008

Who is your child's hero?

"A hero cannot be a hero," said Nathaniel Hawthorne, "unless in an heroic world."

Maybe that helps explain why we no longer have heroes in this country—at least no larger-than-life national heroes worthy of the name. Arguably we live in singularly unheroic times.

Thomas Carlyle, the 19th-century Scottish historian, said: "Society is founded on hero worship." Historically, that may once have been true. It may even be true of other societies today. It certainly isn't true of America. We are a society of celebrity worshipers. We are infatuated by celebrities. We try to look and be like them. We mistake them for heroes. To most of us, who you are and know is much more important than what you do or stand for.

It particularly saddens me when "heroes" become sloppy, lazy, obnoxious people like "Hancock," or crooks like "Mr. and Mrs. Smith." Hollywood has not only taken away morality and character from our heroes, but they've actually substituted villains for heroes, and have our children rooting for and hoping the villains win!

Youth advocates, parents, teachers and health professionals are increasingly in agreement regarding the importance of mentors and role models in positive youth development. A recent issue of Healthy Kids, a publication of the American Academy of Pediatrics, devoted an entire article to the importance of Heroes in child development. Author Ellen Klavan writes "role models can give kids the confidence they need to fly high."

What is needed in the individuals we seek to emulate is a nobleness of character. So, unless we wish to aspire to villainy, nobility is required. This is important for at least three reasons. First, heroes embody the characteristics we value most. Without them how would we know what courage, sacrifice, or honor look like? Second, heroes imbue us with a purpose. They provide an example to follow. Third, heroes embolden us to persevere. They challenge us to strive to improve our character and adopt some of their own.

We are less than we could be as individuals and as a people. Ultimately that's what heroes do for us: They make us mere mortals want to be better. As Emerson observed: "Great men exist that there may be greater men." May Parker in Spiderman said: "Lord knows, kids like Henry need a hero. Courageous, self-sacrificing people. Setting examples for all of us. Everybody loves a hero."

I tried to tell my children about "heroes" early on. I would tell them that their Papa and Nana are my "heroes" and why. I would tell them that who I admired and respected and why they were "heroes." I would read Bible stories and talk about real heroes that made a difference and show that we can too!

Make sure you bring people around that can be strong role models for your children; people they can admire. Admire people for their character and self-sacrificing ways. Demonstrate what is important to you by who you admire: make sure your heroes are heroes because their integrity is what we value, because they show us what courage, sacrifice and honor look like, and because they imbue us with a purpose and give us examples to follow.

Challenge: Begin to pay attention to and develop who your child looks up to as a hero and why. Begin to show your child real "heroes" -- in regular stories every day -- firefighters, people who risk their lives to help others, etc. Constantly demonstrate to your children who YOUR heroes are and why and teach them to look for character to emulate in the people you admire!

Some material taken from Why We Need Heros, by Gregory D. Foster, a professor at the Industrial College of the Armed Forces, National Defense University, Washington, D.C

No comments: