Role models: on your best behaviour?

Sunday 20 October, 12.15pm until 1.15pm, Cinema 2 Generation Wars

Amid all the excitement of the London Olympics and Paralympics, there was particular excitement about the idea that British youth now had a much better class of role model. Even sceptical commentators took consolation from the thought that, if nothing else, the Games would now inspire British kids to become the next Jessica Ennis or Mo Farah rather than overpaid footballer or reality TV stars stumbling out of a nightclub. Public figures are increasingly called upon to act as role models and judged harshly for when they fail to live up to it, whether it’s Justin Bieber encouraging underage drinking or Rihanna apparently condoning her abusive ex-boyfriend. Yet a growing trend for teachers and other professionals to be condemned for being a ‘poor role model’ when caught drinking or engaging in other legitimate adult activities creates much greater discomfort.

Are we too obsessed with the importance of role models today, or have we always looked to those in the public eye to uphold certain standards? Few would argue there is anything wrong in principle with young people admiring adult heroes and heroines, but should we be more discerning about who we acknowledge as role models, and why? Should we not defend the right to a private life and personal failings, whether a pop star or teacher? Is it reasonable to demand higher standards of behaviour from those in public life or will it always lead to moralism?

Lindsay Johns
writer and broadcaster; (non-residential) Fellow at the Hutchins Center for African & African-American Research at Harvard University

Peter Tatchell
human rights campaigner; director, Peter Tatchell Foundation

Dr Stuart Waiton
lecturer in sociology and criminology, Abertay University; author, Snobs' Law: criminalising football fans in an age of intolerance

Kevin Rooney
politics teacher and head of social science, Queen's School, Bushey; co-author, Who's Afraid Of The Easter Rising?

Produced by
Kevin Rooney politics teacher and head of social science, Queen's School, Bushey; co-author, Who's Afraid Of The Easter Rising?
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