What Is a Negative Role Model?

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A negative role model is any person who influences others in a negative way. Negative role models can be public figures, such as celebrities, whose poor behavior and decisions set a negative example for children.

Negative role models exert an influence similar to that of positive role models, but they differ when it comes to the type of behavior being modeled. According to Roots of Action, positive role models typically inspire a “growth mindset,” encouraging kids to work hard and accomplish goals through perseverance. Negative role models are more likely to inspire a “prevention mindset,” which encourages kids to pursue avoidance strategies to prevent negative outcomes. Examples of avoidance strategies include cheating on a test to avoid failing or abusing drugs or alcohol to block out life’s challenges. Negative role models may still motivate children, but they often do so by offering unproductive strategies to avoid failure. The set of coping mechanisms that negative role models inspire may be effective for children, but these strategies are often physically or emotionally unhealthy. Children may come to view the behavior of negative role models as safe, conventional and acceptable, causing them to normalize negative behavior, such as violence, sexism or racism. Parents with children who admire negative role models should discuss these role models’ behavior with their kids and offer different and more positive alternatives.