Henry David Thoreau wrote, “The hero is commonly the simplest and obscurest of men”.
His understanding of the hero is quite a contrast to the money/sex/power-driven entertainment icons that commonly become the objects of admiration by modern children. I believe that it is parents who have a very important role in changing that – and a responsibility to create a culture in which their children want the right kinds of heroes. Homeschooling parents are in the prime position to do this, through a combination of monitoring the negative, exposure to the positive, education and modeling.
I believe there are three major aspects involved with developing the environment most conducive to kids choosing heroes with character and values, whose contributions to society endure:
- Limit kids’ exposure to negative role models, especially when they are young.
- Introduce children to the kinds of heroes you want them to have.
- Emphasize, in the home, the values of the role models you want children to emulate, through education and modeling.
Part 1 of this series shed light on the first of these – limiting the influence of negative role models, particularly in early childhood, so that children have the opportunity to develop their value base before it is challenged. As youth mature, and as they are gradually exposed to ideas and persons contrary to their standards, parents should have regular and open dialogue about how and why these influences contradict, and why the family’s chosen values are preferable.
Although monitoring the content of kids’ entertainment consumption to ensure it aligns with the values the family deems important is a significant first step to helping youth look up to the right kinds of role models, it can have the opposite effect if that is all that is done. Restriction can easily lead to rebellion, if the environment of the home is not one in which youth choose heroes of integrity as an offshoot of having espoused character for themselves.
Children will want heroes of character not because they don’t ever see bad role models, but because they have learned to value qualities such as honesty, responsibility, and compassion over qualities such as financial gain, popularity, and physical attractiveness.
It's not so much about following a recipe as it is about creating a culture in which children choose for themselves to adopt healthy values. To accomplish that, parents must focus on two additional areas. The second of the three things parents can do is:
2. Introduce children to the kinds of heroes you want them to have.
The human heart tends toward idolization. It is not enough to simply limit children’s exposure to negative role models; parents must provide kids healthy alternatives. Give kids people to whom they can look up. One-on-one relationships with excellent adults in their lives can be some of the best ways to encourage children to have the right kinds of heroes. Relationships with mentors, pastors, tutors, grandparents, apprenticeships, close neighbors and even older siblings you respect can be cultivated to have strong positive influences in the lives of our youth. But even with real life positive role models, kids tend to make heroes out of icons in the culture, as well, so this area can’t be ignored.
Think about the entertainment and cultural influences to which your kids are most drawn, and introduce good ones! Give them stories, lyrics, and visual stimuli of people and ideals of good repute. Christian music artists, books about American historical heroes, wholesome movie stars, and timeless t.v. shows really do exist – you just sometimes have to work to find them! Consider these options for developing the right kind of heroes in your kids:
- Christian Heroes Then and Now book series by YWAM Publishing. Biographies for ages 10+ of individuals such as C.S. Lewis, Amy Carmichael, Corrie Ten Boom, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Elisabeth Elliot, and others.
- 50 American Heroes Every Kid Should Meet by Dennis Denenberg. This kid-friendly book covers a wide range of American heroes, including Susan B. Anthony, Walt Disney, Frederick Douglass, Eleanor Roosevelt, Rosa Parks, and Jackie Joyner-Kersee.
- The Blind Side. This film follows the true story of a homeless teen taken in by a well-to-do middle class family, only to later become a pro football player. Rated PG-13.
- Animated Heroes Classic Series on DVD by Nest Entertainment. Animated videos recounting the stories of such figures as Benjamin Franklin, Florence Nightingale, Galileo, Helen Keller, and more.
- The Courageous Heart of Irena Sendler. This Hallmark Hall of Fame movie is based on the life of a Polish social worker during World War II who saved the lives of many Jewish children by using her position to smuggle them out of the ghetto. Not suitable for young children.
- Soul Surfer. A film based on the true story of Bethany Hamilton, the teen who lost her arm in a shark attack, only to battle back to become a surfing champion. Rated PG.
- Little House on the Prairie t.v. series. A wonderful show full of strong values for all ages, based on the books by Laura Ingalls Wilder about her experiences during America’s westward expansion.
- Downton Abbey t.v. series by PBS, for older youth. This excellent period drama follows the life and experiences of the Crawleys – the Earl and Countess Grantham – and their servants, who live in the English estate Downton Abbey at the turn of the century and through World War I. Ideal for dialogue with older youth about the right kinds of heroes, and about shifting historical values.
- Switchfoot – Alternative rock band with a strong moral base.
- 1 Girl Nation – A 5-member girl band Christian pop rock group that particularly appeals to young women.
- Heroes of Invention unit study by Amanda Bennett. This study for 5-9th grades teaches students about such inventors as Archimedes, Eli Whitney, Gutenberg, and James Watt. (Also consider her unit studies on Heroes of America, Heroes of American History, Heroes of Chivalry, and Heroes of Christianity)
- Portraits of Integrity book by Marilyn Boyer. This teaching resource incorporates character qualities such as courage and honesty with the stories of figures from history who demonstrated those qualities. Francis Scott Key, Queen Victoria, Molly Pitcher, and Booker T. Washington are some of the featured individuals.
- Legends of Faith comic books by Eikon Bible Art. Stunning graphics accompany these comic books for ages 8-12, which tell stories of the Bible, as well as the story of John Harper, hero of the Titanic.
- Uncle Rick Audios. Rick Boyer, speaker, author, and homeschooler of 14 children reads a variety of stories, featuring excellent heroes from history, in his lively and relational style. Consider his CD titles: True Stories of Great Americans, The True Story of Benjamin Franklin, Petticoat Warriors, Stories of the War of Independence, Revolutionary Heroes, Famous Frontiersmen, and more.
Children need positive influences to admire – cultural and entertainment options that can inspire toward values that matter over the long haul. These examples are good places to start, but there is another tremendously key element to helping kids internalize character for themselves, and thereby be naturally drawn to the right kinds of heroes.
Hang in there for Part 3…
 "Walking" (1862), in The Writings of Henry David Thoreau, vol. 5, p. 224, Houghton Mifflin (1906).
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