Steven Paul Rudolph
Role models play an important part in our lives. They are people we can look toward for motivation in our times of darkness, sources of inspiration whom we can follow to help us achieve success in life. Be it celebrities, business leaders or historical figures, such individuals spur us on in times of great difficulty, as we imagine how they triumphed in their own moments of strife. However, the most important role models need not necessarily be legendary personalities – the famous faces that adorn textbooks, newspapers and bedroom walls. In fact, our greatest role models can be found right under our own roofs.
Parents are children’s first role models, mentors who provide guidance in myriad ways – everything from how to tie a shoe to how to manage time. The examples they set establish the patterns and behaviours that their children will follow for a lifetime. But as self-evident and trivial as this point might seem, there is a deep-rooted neurobiological angle that explains how this phenomenon happens and why adults should strive to be exemplary in their life practices.
The human mind is wired to copy others. Special brain cells called ‘mirror neurons’ help us tune into our fellow human beings and learn from them. When we watch others behaving in a particular way, our mirror neurons fire – and most amazingly, they fire in the same way as when we perform that action ourselves. It is from here that we learn by imitating those around us. So by observing others in action, our brain is essentially influencing us to act in the same manner.
Consider then what happens at home when children observe a mother or father assisting an elderly person, exercising or being forgiving when someone has wronged them. It is as if they themselves have engaged in those constructive activities. However, the same holds true if they watch someone neglecting a grandparent, lazing about the house, or being unforgiving.
Further, scientists have determined that the first six years of children’s lives are the most impressionable with respect to the brain’s development. It is during these years that our neural networks are structured, and serve as the brain’s foundation for the rest of our lives. As such, we can expect that the way we are inclined to behave when we are grown up – for better or for worse – depends extensively on the people we are exposed to during these critical years.
So if you are a parent, my hope is that you keep in mind how powerful and significant your influence is on your children during their childhood. If you smoke a cigarette, tell a lie or behave violently in their presence, you effectively engage them in doing the same – and predispose them to do so in the future. Therefore, when it comes to raising kids, keep my Law of Learning #9 in mind – Be a Role Model. Then when you search for sources of inspiration for them, you need not look far. You are the greatest role model that they will ever have.
The author is an American educator, TV personality, public speaker and bestselling author based in India. He can be reached at [email protected].