Role models are an important part of a child’s development, there’s no doubt about it, kids are influenced by the behaviour of the people in authority over them and the people they like. Traditionally, the main role model for a child is their father, for a boy, and mother, for a girl. Parents should behave how they want their children to behave in future, as they are constantly being scrutinised by their offspring, who are desperately trying to form a view of how the land lies – of what’s acceptable and what’s not. You don’t see a father swearing in front of their four-year-old son because that father doesn’t want to endorse this sort of behaviour. Equally, you’ll find that parents try to be polite in front of their children regardless of their mood. Even in adulthood, people are highly influenced by their peers – we have a natural instinct to avoid offending the people closest to us in order to maintain relationships.
However, in recent decades, media has progressed in such a way that people can have access to intimate details about people they don’t know and have never met. Reality television shows such as The X Factor allow viewers to witness the personal journeys of successful contestants, from beginning to end. By the end of the series people feel genuine affection towards these people and will likely have the opportunity to follow them on Twitter or Instagram. A child or naïve adult that looks up to these people is then exposed to every aspect of their life, giving celebrities the power to divulge explicit material and express views and opinions that have the power to influence hundreds of thousands of individuals.
The advantage of this is that it makes it very easy to highlight the imperfection of humanity. Someone who regularly uses social media will inevitably publish something they regret later, their online persona will start to reflect their genuine personality and nobody is perfect. It’s when this imperfection is forgotten, unknown or ignored that people start to mindlessly accept opinions as fact; when role modelling becomes idolatry. By accepting everything someone says as fact, you are – in a sense – recognising them as God, giving them authority over everything in the universe. In this way, God is an idol to those who put their faith in Him.
I know that if I were a parent, I’d not want my children taking on the morals of the models, actors and footballers that parade the screens of mainstream television and stain the pages of tabloids with their misdeeds. I’m not at all suggesting that media should be meticulously censored of anything that could have a negative impact on the innocent and the naïve, but simply that we should be aware of the power that media has over people. Businesses invest millions into exploiting our vulnerability to external influence on a daily basis in the form of advertising through media. It is clear that we are all susceptible to these schemes so it’s important to be as guarded about social media as you are with a door-to-door salesman. They’re all playing the same game, whether they know it or not.