If you’re looking for good teen role models, you might start with the recent winners of the Nobel Peace Prize.
We have all heard of Malala Yousafzai, although a lot of us didn’t hear about her until she was shot. Before that, starting at age 11, she wrote an anonymous blog for the BBC about being a girl under the Taliban regime. She gained international public recognition as a speaker and activist, and in 2012 was the victim of an assassination attempt.
Luckily, she survived, and maintained her courage and passion. Continuing to campaign for the rights of all children to receive an education, she was a co-winner of the Nobel Peace Prize this year. At age 17, she is the first teenager to do so.
Another truly heroic person recognized with the Peace Prize this year is Kailash Satyarthi, an Indian man who has dedicated his life to ending child slavery and forced labor, as well as child marriage. To date, he has rescued almost eighty thousand children from child labor.
When we think of teen role models, we often think of people like Miley Cyrus: actors or musicians that most parents actively don’t want their child to emulate. What a gift, then, for two such praiseworthy individuals to be placed in the spotlight. Malala, a 17-year-old young woman, is not renowned because of her looks, dancing ability, or TV show; she has more important things to worry about, like speaking in front of the U.N. While Kailash is past the age where he might be cast as a hero in a romantic comedy, and probably doesn’t have much Twitter presence, he has touched the lives of tens of thousands of children.
Malala and Kailash have many things in common. The most striking is a dedication to fighting for universal education. Both see education as a path out of poverty and oppression. Malala has focused on the education of girls- vehemently opposed by the Taliban- while Kailash has ensured that former child laborers and slaves gain knowledge and skills that support independence. Some teens in our society see school as a burden, unnecessary or unimportant. In a land of plenty, we tend to lose sight of how valuable universal education really is. While education in the U.S. certainly has its share of eras we’d like to forget, children and parents around the world yearn for the opportunity to receive a full education for free. Malala and Kailash have also taken huge risks in the pursuit of what they felt was right, represented and defended the vulnerable, and remained true to their ideals despite massive setbacks and resistance.
While many teens are hearing more about Malala, since she is a teen herself, neither Nobel winner is likely to be marketed the way American celebrities are. Luckily, you can bring them up in conversation. Your teen might be inspired or indifferent, but at least they know that sometimes accolades and fame come to those who have acted in brave and honorable ways, as well as those to who are Photoshopped-beautiful, rich, and/or wealthy.
Who else do you think is a great role model for teens?