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We all learn by example. And there are many shining role models your kids can follow to get started on the path to success.

Their most important role model will probably be you, especially at first. It’s natural for children to look up to their parents and absorb their values and experience. And that is all well and good, but it doesn’t hurt to bring in some outside reinforcements for additional inspiration.

Is your child interested in becoming a professional athlete? Try to connect her early on with a coach or athlete who can offer advice or encouragement. An artist or writer? Take him to an event so he can learn more about his idols. An entrepreneur? Help her reach out to successful business owners in your area.

Discover your child’s role models

Then support those interests with books, articles, and opportunities to see his heroes speak, play or perform. Having role models not only delivers inspiration and motivation but can also give children concrete information on how to achieve similar levels of success.

Chances are, your child will have to research role models for school and write reports or make presentations in his classes. When this happens, use it as an opportunity to find out more about your child’s interests, what qualities he admires about his heroes, and above all, share his excitement about the inspiring people he’s getting to know.

Positive role models boost young peoples’ motivations by embodying and presenting a guide to achieving success, says psychologist Marilyn Price-Mitchell, author of “Tomorrow’s Change Makers: Reclaiming the Power of Citizenship for a New Generation.” Positive role models typically exhibit the following qualities:

  • the ability to inspire others
  • a clear set of values
  • a commitment to community
  • an acceptance of others, and
  • an ability to overcome obstacles.

There is no shortage of positive role models

They can be living or dead, young or old, and achievers in virtually any field. According to Raconteur readers, the three most inspiring people in the world are Nelson Mandela (1918-2013), former president of South Africa and anti-apartheid leader; Mohandas Gandhi (1869-1948), leader of India’s independence movement; and Steve Jobs (1955-2011), co-founder of Apple.

If you have a child interested in technology, look no further than Silicon Valley. The region has spawned many powerful role models, including Jobs, whom your kids might do well to admire. Many technology entrepreneurs end up as millionaires — or even billionaires — before they hit 30.

Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg’s story continues to provoke awe and inspiration. He launched the company from his Harvard University dorm room and now has a net worth of $43 billion. Several years ago, he added to the story by announcing that he and his wife Priscilla would donate the majority of their wealth over the course of their lives to “advancing human potential and promoting equality.” Recently, they announced they would give 99 percent of their Facebook shares to that cause.

Even before he entered Harvard and launched Facebook, Zuckerberg was racking up an impressive list of accomplishments: He won prizes in math, astronomy, physics and the classics, was fluent in four languages and was captain of the fencing team. But there are also downsides to his story: Like Jobs, he dropped out of college. Zuckerberg was also involved in lawsuits with the company co-founders, who accused him of stealing their ideas.

Role models can be young

Role models who are your kids’ own age can have an even more powerful effect. Time magazine produces a yearly list of the Top 100 Most Influential People in the World. The magazine also publishes a list of influential teens. Among 2017’s most influential teens are:

  • Millie Bobby Brown, the 17-year-old Emmy-nominated actress for her portrayal of Eleven on the Netflix series Stranger Things is a UNICEF goodwill ambassador;
  • Thandiwe Abdullah, an 18-year-old co-founder of Black Lives Matter LA Youth Vanguard, who is one of her generation’s most powerful voices on issues relating to social injustice;
  • Greta Thunberg, a 18-year-old from Sweden who has been nominated for an international prize for her activism relating to climate change;
  • Billie Eilish, 19, a rising star in the music industry;
  • Jack Cable, 21, a rising star in the world of white hat hackers – programmers who use their expertise to find and report bugs and vulnerabilities instead of exploiting them; and
  • Kayva Kopparapu, 20, developed a deep-learning computer system that can scan slides from brain cancer patients with the goal of developing targeted therapies unique to the patient.

You don’t want to end up comparing your child to those super-successful peers, and asking her why she hasn’t solved any world problems or become a millionaire yet. But it can be inspiring for her to know such accomplishments are possible from kids in her own age group.

Role models are not necessarily famous

Role models don’t need to be famous to embody positive qualities that can steer your child along the road to success. They can be your next-door neighbor, a family friend, a relative or someone from church. The important thing is to expose your child to as many people as possible.

And when students are asked to write or report about someone they admire, it’s not uncommon for them to pick someone they know very well, such as a grandparent or even their parents.

Don’t be afraid to ask one such role model if they can speak to your child about how they achieved their success. Most adults — especially successful ones — are more than happy to share their wisdom. It’s an important part of supporting the next generation and giving back.

And if your child is on social media, he can learn more about the people he admires by simply following them on Instagram, Twitter, or Snapchat, or liking their Facebook fan page.

In encouraging your child to embrace role models, there are a couple of things to watch out for, though. You don’t want her engaging in blind hero worship, idolizing someone just because they are rich and famous. Rather, prod your children to delve a little deeper, asking them what exactly it is about the role models they admire, and what they think those role models did to succeed.

And be wary of negative role models or role models with few redeeming qualities. You don’t want your child to be emulating someone who doesn’t have strong values, breaks laws, or who achieved their success or fame by sheer luck or by cutting corners.

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