Children's role models

Family Lives have been speaking to parents of 8-13 year olds about the effects of violent or aggressive behaviour on their children. One key issue that emerged from a number of parents we talked to was a lack of positive, non-violent role models for children. One parent said:

“Twenty or thirty years ago, children were taught that you respected and you listened to your elders. It didn’t have to be your parent; it could be your parent’s friend or an elder on the street. You knew that if you were out, you were supposed to behave yourself and conduct yourself in a certain way.”

How children are raised has a substantial effect on their behaviour, as the group’s discussions revealed. One parent spoke about a nine year old boy who would get into fights at school. This boy would hit back much harder than he was hit because he did not want the other children to “hit him like Daddy hit Mummy”. This is a key example of parents’ behaviour influencing their own children. Parents are children’s number one role model and how they act will shape their children’s characters. In fact, according to The Home Affairs Committee, 25% of children who are beaten go on to commit violent offences.

Another parent talked about seeing so many young people on the streets late at night, and remarked that parents were neglecting their responsibilities in allowing this, saying it was no wonder there was so much crime. Within this particular focus group, parents agreed about the need to listen to and spend more quality time with their children. They agreed they should talk more about feelings to increase children’s self-esteem and that by doing this, children are less likely to become involved in gangs and crime.

Parents should be open and approachable enough to listen to their children’s problems, spend time together as a family, and if possible, take holidays together. However, it is important for parents to stick to their role as a parent. Some of the members of the group felt that if a parent tries to be friends with their child, rather than establish an authoritative or guidance role, it can result in a lack of respect for the parent. One commented:

“Nowadays, there have been too many parents that treat their children like friends, rather than finding that boundary of parent and child. So they don’t maintain the same standard of behaviour that we had when I was younger.”


“We are definitely seeing more aggressive behaviour through media, television, videos...”

Some parents think that there are not enough positive figures in the public eye for children to look up to. With boys in particular, parents feel that the celebrities they look up to are more of a negative influence on their behaviour. Most boys idolise film heroes who carry guns and act violently. When parents tell boys not to be violent, it causes confusion for them, as their heroes do act in this way.

The huge popularity of violent, war-related online games among this age group are also a common concern. Another group mentioned that celebrities such as footballers, who would be expected to be positive role models, are often seen behaving violently or disrespectfully – particularly in the way they treat women. This leads children to believe that these forms of behaviour are acceptable. Parents generally felt that there should be more censorship in media, films, computer games and advertising, particularly before the watershed.


The lack of male teachers was a big factor mentioned during discussions. All groups thought there should be more of a male presence in schools in order to benefit the students, particularly where there is no male role model at home. However, according to the General Teaching Council for England, only 25% of registered teachers are men. In fact, more than 1 in 4 primary schools have no male teachers at all. In addition to this, some parents felt that teacher’s attitudes were not always helpful. Parents felt that newly-qualified teachers, in particular, were not experienced in dealing with anti-social behaviour, and had a hands-off approach to extra-curricular activities. Some parents also mentioned that teachers were reluctant to get involved when aggressive behaviour was reported to them.

Other Children

“I know children who have been initiated into gangs. There’s a lot of peer pressure, because if the children don’t want to join, then they’re isolated and picked on. So that is why they will join, not necessarily because they want to, they just feel it’s the safer option.”

In cases where children had been bullied, parents felt that mentoring really helped. One parent mentioned that it would be positive to have mentors and past students available in schools to motivate children. Parents say that it is too easy for their children to become involved in gangs. Even children who are not usually aggressive or “tough” often adapt their behaviour in order to be accepted by their peers, and to survive school without being picked on. One parent spoke about a nine year old boy who heard violent language at school and started to use it in order to fit in with his peers. Parents are worried that this language is normalised as it is used so frequently.