Topic 1 Introduction

Children and especially adolescents are influenced by role models. A role model can be described as a person who serves as an example to others and can determine the relationship with oneself and others, the behavior or habits of an individual. For youth, a role model is usually a parent or caregiver, a teacher, their peers, and even someone that they have not formed a relationship with, such as an athlete, a celebrity, and other characters from books or videos. Role models can be both positive and negative.

Albert Bandura (1977) proposed Social Learning Theory and pointed out that people observe, model and imitate the behaviors, attitudes and emotional reactions of others. He introduced the concept of observational learning based on which children observe other people, models, in their environment and shape their behavior accordingly, in similar situations. Of course, not all people or all behaviors are imitated by children. There are some mediational processes that intervene and can influence if a behavior will be imitated. These mediational processes are:

  • Attention. To observe a behavior, it first needs to grab the child’s attention. The child then focuses their attention to the behavior as well as its consequences and forms a mental representation of it.
  • Retention. To document a behavior so the child can imitate it in the future, a detailed memory needs to be created.
  • Reproduction. Even if the child would like to reproduce the behavior, they need to acquire the physical or mental ability and skills to imitate it.
  • Motivation. The aftermath, meaning the perceived consequences or rewards, of the observed behavior will determine the motivation to recreate the behavior. If the perceived rewards exceed the perceived costs, then it is more possible that the behavior will be imitated.

Bandura conducted a controlled experiment study which demonstrated that children are able to learn social behaviors, such as aggression through observation learning. Video

  1. Have the child identify what qualities he admires in his role model.
  2. Give examples of people in your community who you feel have positive qualities and are a good influence on others.
  3. Talk about people you look up to for guidance and inspiration.
  4. Remind your child that all people have good and bad qualities and that anyone can make a mistake. Explain that it is important to apologise and to learn from our mistakes.
  5. Ask your child what he thinks of the role model’s behavior.
  6. Ask what he would have done differently in the situation.
  7. Give example of more positive and healthy ways to handle the situation
  8. Encourage your child to become involved in activities that reflect your values, such as religious programs, athletics, after school programs, clubs and volunteering.
  9. Remind your child that he or she does not have to do everything that the role model does. Your child can copy what he or she likes but still be him or herself.