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Encouraging Heroes. You can be one too.

Even if they never say it aloud, most people hope to leave their mark on the world somehow, to do something that stands out like a beacon that states “I was here.”

In a world of seven billion people it might seem like a tough order. That’s why so many people – and especially young people – confuse attention-getting behavior with making a mark. One is temporary and selfish, the other one solid and selfless.

I spoke with a teacher who’s been in the classroom for more than twenty-five years. She says there’s nothing more satisfying than hearing from former students who, years later, tell her that she is the reason they’re successful today. What was difficult for them to see through the haze of their hectic school days became quite clear years later when seen through the lens of perspective.

That’s powerful stuff. And yet, we can teach our kids that you don’t need to be a teacher or a parent – or even an adult, for that matter – in order to make a difference. Instead of continually relying on someone else to be a positive influence, your child can take on that same responsibility. Now.

We like to say that our kids are the leaders of tomorrow, but that’s actually selling them short. There’s no reason why a pre-teen or teenager can’t lead today, by positively influencing other students around them.

A popular sentiment among young people is that they’d like to help ‘save the world.’Well, saving the world isn’t limited to recycling and checking carbon emissions. Saving the world can also take the form of encouraging peers to harness the collected energy of their brains, to take the magnificent computer that lies within each of us and use it for good.

Which means your student has choices to make, especially regarding education.

Believe it or not, the students around her – and particularly the students in the grades below her – are watching and taking notice. What image is she projecting to these fellow students regarding school? Is she openly proud of her academic achievements, or does she hide them in order to play cool?

Sure, she’s still young, but your teenager is capable of being an incredible role model. She personally interacts with dozens of peers on a daily basis. She can profoundly impact many of the kids following in the grades behind her. They already look up to her because she’s older; imagine what kind of healthy influence she could have through her behavior and attitude toward education.

Visit with your child about what kind of mark he wants to leave behind. It’s easy to do something shallow and gimmicky to get attention. But in order to truly make the world a better place – to really make a difference – he can set his sights much higher. He can influence the students around him, especially the younger ones who are watching.

Age is overrated. Making a mark can be as simple as helping others get on the right path. And in the long run, what will that mean for your community and for the world at large?

Dom Testa is an author, speaker, morning radio show host, and has kept a ficus tree alive for twenty-three years. He’s also the founder and president of The Big Brain Club, a non-profit student development foundation. His new book, Smart is Cool, will be published in August, 2014. More info at www.DomTesta.com.

Earnest Parenting: help for parents of kids who make a difference.