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Kids and Heroes

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We’ve heard a lot about heroes since Sept. 11. Much discussion focused on New York City’s brave firefighters and police officers, those who lost their lives in the World Trade Center and those who worked on search-and-rescue crews after the buildings collapsed.

Much discussion focused on New York City’s brave firefighters and police officers, those who lost their lives in the World Trade Center and those who worked on search-and-rescue crews after the buildings collapsed. There were other heroes—in New York, at the Pentagon, and in the sky over Pennsylvania—who did not wear uniforms.

In more recent weeks, we have lauded our military personnel as heroes, especially those directly engaged in the conflict in Afghanistan.

U.S. New and World Report and People magazines have run hero feature stories. We’ve become newly aware that any one of us can be a hero if we act unselfishly at the right time.

This past Halloween, instead of fictional characters, stores were pushing police, firefighter and military costumes.

Baby boomers had Superman, Spiderman, Batman and Wonderwoman with their attendant superpowers. Today’s children have many times more fictional heroes—both super and otherwise—from whom to choose, with exposure to television, movies, video games, computer games and the Internet. Even a big hero like Harry Potter doesn’t endure very long, as every few months the media offer another character for children to look up to, diluting the influence of the previous luminary.

When asked about their heroes, my son and a group of his ten-year old friends looked at me blankly, and then started joking around. When asked who they wanted to be like, the dominant theme was sports stars.
Along with everyone’s favorite—Michael Jordan—there are lesser known pros such as skateboarding king Tony Hawk and Russian gymnast Svetlana Khorkina.

Maybe we’d all really like such lives—playing a game as our profession, for which we are paid incredibly well, then retiring to a life of ease and endorsements. But does that really qualify as hero material?

Our children need strong role models. If we search too far for children’s heroes, we miss the truth that is right before us—or really that is us.

For even with the myriad of influences coming into our homes, and with all that impacts our children away from home, the fact is that family members, usually parents, have the greatest heroic influence on children.

Young children clearly admire their parents. Early adolescents may pretend not to, but we know they still do. Many older adolescents don’t seem to even like their parents, much less admire them. But after figuring out who they themselves are, children usually come to truly appreciate their parents.

Graduating high school students and other young adults asked to name their heroes bear out this truth, with sincere-sounding responses that almost always include father, or mother, or grandfather, or grandmother, sometimes big brother or sister.

So let’s be the kind of parents our children should admire, whom they will one day cite as their heroes. Let’s give unselfishly to them, and let’s show them how to treat those outside our families, both friends and strangers, with utmost respect and care.

Let’s ask God for the courage in 2002 to live, in ways everyday and extraordinary, like the heroes our children need.

Karen Johnson Zurheide is a Dartmouth-MBA-turned-writer and former director of a Connecticut-wide parent support network. Karen and her husband and two children reside in Edmond, Okla.

Order Zurheide’s books from Amazon!
In Their Own Way: Accepting Your Children For Who They Are
Learning With Molly