By Leila O'HaraHeroes most often stem from personal connections. Several independent studies conducted within the past ten years discovered the majority of children, of a variety of ages and ethnicities, recognize their parents as their heroes.
Parents as heroes
Numerous studies show that children recognize their mother or their father as their personal hero. For example, two psychology professors found the majority of adolescents, from ages 8 to 13, identified their parents as their heroes, whom they respected for their kindness, helpfulness or understanding, all heroic qualities. A smaller percentage of kids admired celebrities for their skill or talents and identified athletes like Kobe Bryant or movie stars like Will Smith as heroes.
Children generally pick heroes within the same gender as themselves and boys were particularly hesitant to classify women as heroic. Children also identified heroes of the same ethnicity as themselves, meaning that African American children generally named African American media figures as their heroes. The study concluded children should be exposed to a variety of prospective heroes so they can understand the concept of diversity from a young age.
In another study conducted by the University of Kansas, responses vary as children become more mature. Younger children saw heroes as personal helpers who assist them, while older students saw heroes as people who serve the greater good, and make a difference in society.
As children mature, they look to their heroes for answers and mirror their heroes' character traits that come to define them over time. Developing a personal hero from a young age potentially provides children with well-established identities, moral, and values.
A hero correlated with a stronger sense of social acceptance, romantic appeal and athletic competence according to a 2001 study. Adolescents may become absorbed with their hero, and lose their identity as a result, a study conducted by the Department of Psychology at the University of Lincolnshire and Humberside found. However, it is more common that adolescents could distinguish themselves from their hero, and develop their own sense of self.
The study found that despite establishing their own identity, many young men and women identified with male heroes. This could be due to society's emphasis on masculinity, since the study found it to be socially acceptable for young women to admire a man, but not the case, in vice versa. It could also be due to the lack of famous female role models in pop culture worldwide.
Young men chose to identify athletes as heroes while young women chose famous entertainers, both appearing to express their individuality in their choice while also sharing a consensus with their peers.
Whether or not personal heroes provide children with academic aspirations or ambitious goals, a young person's relationship with heroism defines their characteristics and aspirations. Having a hero gives inspiration, ambition and motivation to people to strive to be better.