A study conducted by Barna Group among a national sample of teenagers gives new insight into whom teens select as their role models and why those individuals captured their attention.
The nationwide sample of teenagers asked 13- to 17-year-olds to identify the person whom they admire most today as a role model, other than their parents. A follow-up question probed the reasons they define that person as a role model.
So who do teenagers name as their role models?
The most commonly mentioned role model is a relative—37% of teens named a relation other than their parent as the person they admire most. This is typically a grandparent, but also includes sisters, brothers, cousins, aunts, and uncles. After "family," teens mention teachers and coaches (11%), friends (9%), and pastors or other religious leaders they know personally (6%).
Beyond the realm of the people they know personally, entertainers (including musicians and actors) were named by 6% of teens, followed by sports heroes (5%), political leaders (4%), faith leaders (4%), business leaders (1%), authors (1%), science and medical professionals (1%), other artists (1%), and members of the military (1%).
The high-profile leaders most commonly named were President Obama (3%) and Jesus Christ (3%).
Why do teens choose their role models?
The most common rationale (26%) was the personality traits of that person. Another factor in teens' thinking was finding someone to emulate (22%) or that the teen would like to "follow in the footsteps" of their chosen role model. Encouragement is another reason for teens' selections (11%), the role model accomplished his or her goals (13%), overcame adversity (9%), works hard (7%), is intelligent (7%), performs humanitarian effort and activism (6%), maintains strong faith (6%), has great talent (5%), and exudes self-confidence (1%). Although not listed often, some teens identified wealth (3%), self-sufficiency (1%), and fame (1%) as the reasons for preferring a specific leader or role model.
Source: Barna Group