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Recently, my almost Kindergartener was on a mission with her friend, sharing an electronic tablet that played Katy Perry videos on YouTube. The song “Wide Awake” is catchy. I heard it over and over, while the girls peered over the screen, in awe, examining what would happen next in the video’s mysterious and captivating scenes within a fairy-tale plot. A role model was born.

There’s clearly no shortage of available role models for young people today, from singers and musicians to actors and athletes. I like that my children enjoy popular culture because I’m a bit of a pop culture junkie myself. Hey, what mom doesn’t like to leaf through the latest issue of People while in the grocery check-out line or doctor’s office waiting room? Maybe knowing the names of all the boys in One Direction will help keep me young, relevant and accessible to my girls as they navigate the dreaded “tween” years in the future. We even saw Taylor Swift’s sell-out concert last weekend, and we love watching teen-inspired Disney movies with well-known celebs Selena Gomez, Bridgit Mendler and Demi Lovato.Photo: www.kgkl.net

So fast forward on the same day as the girls’ YouTube viewing marathon, July 12th, as I watched footage from a speech given to the United Nations by Malala Yousafzai, the 16-year-old Pakistani girl who was shot in the head by the Taliban last year and miraculously survived. Her perceived crime of seeking educational equality for girls made her a Taliban target. I’m sure most adults know her story, but this is when it dawned on me that my kids likely never heard of Malala. Shouldn’t she be a role model, one who my children can be inspired by?

My older daughter was nearby, so I called her over to watch the broadcast, and I briefly explained Malala’s story. This brave girl has been on a mission to fight the Taliban’s tyranny over young girls’ trying to attain any sort of education, sometimes referred to as gender apartheid. My daughter was shocked that girls in some places of the world are simply not allowed to have an education, a privilege the females in our household, including myself, have taken for granted.

In no way do I want to diminish our American culture’s love of things trendy and cool, but I also want to make sure my children have a broader world perspective and understanding of what truly effects change and impacts people. I’ll quote from Malala’s speech because it was incredibly moving and inspirational to me, especially as someone raising two little girls.

“They thought the bullets would silence us, but they failed. And then, out of that silence came thousands of voices. The terrorists thought that they would change our aims and stop our ambitions but nothing changed in my life except this: Weakness, fear and hopelessness died. Strength, power and courage was born.” (Malala Yosafzai, in a July 12 speech to the Youth Assembly at the U.N. in New York.)

When girls her age are often consumed with the right outfit to choose for their ‘sweet 16,’ Malala Yousafzai celebrated her 16th birthday addressing the world about the plight of children who’ve raised their voices for equal rights, emphasizing that education is the only solution.

I often write about my perspective as a mother of two girls, but finding significant roles models isn’t just a challenge for young girls who are often focused on ephemeral things like clothing, jewelry or hairstyles. Boys too, are in awe of professional athletes. Many of whom are, sadly, in trouble with the law or clouded in scandal from unfaithful relationships, doping or even murder convictions such as former Patriot Aaron Hernandez. Fifty plus years ago, little boys could still be inspired by Charles Lindbergh, Martin Luther King Jr., and Army General Douglas MacArthur.

As parents, we should remind our children ever so often that heroes aren’t always the ones performing on a larger-than-life stage that pumps confetti or on a football field. Teach them history, read to them about the great innovations of our century and point out social injustices. They may just learn to look deeper into the world for meaningful ways to make a difference. Being a great singer or athlete are fine aspirations, but don’t let them forget about the trailblazers of our past and present who move forward bravely to help others succeed or simply to enjoy lives filled with equality that are free from suffering.

Julia Sherwin is a freelance writer and mother of three who lives in Chester County. She is a former college journalism instructor who enjoys running, biking, swimming, traveling and cooking.

 Email her at jsherwin73@gmail.com  or follow her other parenting articles at juliasherwin.wordpress.com.

Photo: www.kgkl.net