One is the president of the United States. The other, the Son of God. But to American teens, Barack Obama and Jesus Christ are equal when it comes to who they see as their role model, a new study shows.
A Barna Group study, released Monday, on teen role models found that while two out of three teens named someone they know personally as a person they looked up to, some did mention high-profile leaders on their list.
The favorite role model among teens was a relative, with 37 percent of teens identifying a grandparent, sibling, cousin, aunt or uncle as someone they admire most other than their parents. The study did not include parents as an option since it was an automatic response for many.
Teens in the study, aged 13 to 17, also mentioned teachers and coaches (11 percent), friends (9 percent), and pastors or other religious leaders they know personally (6 percent) as their personal role models.
At least 6 percent of teens listed entertainers as their role model of choice compared to 1 percent who said they admired science or medical professionals. Other types of people mentioned were sports heroes (5 percent), political leaders (4 percent) and faith leaders (4 percent).
President Obama and Jesus Christ were commonly named as teen role models, each receiving 3 percent of the votes. Teenagers looked up to Obama for his hard work and self-confidence. Jesus resonated among teens because of his concern for others and being an example to follow.
Other famous people who got multiple mentions included Lady Gaga, Oprah Winfrey, LeBron James and Paul McCartney.
"For better and worse, teens are emulating the people they know best," said David Kinnaman, president of the Barna Group. "Many parents and youth workers fret about the role models of the next generation. Yet, one reason to remain hopeful about the development of young people is their reliance upon the people they know best: friends, relatives, teachers, pastors, and coaches."
"At the same time, that reality underscores the insistence of many parents that they influence the people with whom their child associates, in order to be sure that their kids are surrounded by people modeling positive values and life choices," he added.
Most teenagers chose their role model based on the personality traits of the person (26 percent), identifying them as being caring, loving, polite, or courageous. The second biggest factor in teens' decision for their role model was someone teens wanted to emulate or "follow in the footsteps" of (22 percent). Other factors included a role model accomplishing his or her goals (13 percent), encouraging them by helping them become a better person or being there for them (11 percent) and overcoming adversity (9 percent).
Kinnaman observed that faith and religion played a small role in the choosing of teen role models.
"Even among young Christians, their role models are virtually no different than other teenagers," he noted.
The study was based on a nationwide online survey of 602 teens.