WASHINGTON – When it comes to those they most admire, young people do not look chiefly to the worlds of music, today’s wars or history. Instead, they turn to their own families.
Asked to name their heroes, young Americans surveyed by the Associated Press and MTV make their parents the collective top pick. Twenty-nine percent choose their mothers, 21 percent name their fathers and 16 percent pick their parents without specifying which one. Allowed to choose as many heroes as they’d like, nearly half mention at least one of their folks.
Next in line as the poll’s top heroes: 11 percent choose friends, 10 percent God, 8 percent their grandmother, 7 percent their brother and 5 percent a teacher or professor.
Jacquelynne Eccles, a University of Michigan psychology professor who has studied young people, says surveys she has helped conduct since 1980 have consistently found that parents are youths’ most oft-named heroes.
“They’re gradually moving out of the family, which is what they should be doing, but that doesn’t mean that they feel less close to their family,” Eccles said. “Parents often take it personally and believe it’s a rejection of the family, when in fact it’s really a broadening out.”
Also getting frequent mentions as heroes are members of the U.S. military, firefighters and police officers, as well as boyfriends, sisters, grandfathers and coaches. Two percent choose themselves.
Martin Luther King Jr. is named by 4 percent, making the late civil rights leader the most frequently mentioned historical figure or celebrity. Winning 1 percent each are former Vice President Al Gore, television personality Oprah Winfrey, President Bush, Tiger Woods, Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton, D-N.Y., and the late Steve Irwin, the crocodile hunter.
For his heroes, Daniel Voss, 16, of Atkins, Iowa, included Jesus Christ, author J.K. Rowling, Thomas Jefferson and retired basketball star David Robinson.
“All those people have been very successful in their fields, but will engage in helping their communities and not letting fame get to their heads,” Voss said.
Even comic book characters make the grade, with Superman and Spiderman each named by 1 percent and Batman close behind.
“Spiderman fights for the innocent, fights for justice and has moral quandaries,” said Rick Montalvo, 14, of Chicago. “He reflects the feelings we as human beings have ourselves.”