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Recent research has revealed that having a personal hero can offer psychological resources to adults, particularly during challenging times. Yet we know little about the role that heroes play in the lives of adolescents – a period of human development when challenges are plentiful, and adolescents are increasingly open to the influence of others outside the family unit. In the present study, adolescent perspectives were sought on types and characteristics of heroes, and the psychological and social functions provided by heroes for young people. Four focus groups were conducted with adolescents (N = 22) aged 15 to 17 years at two urban, co-educational public secondary (high) schools in Ireland. Four themes of hero functions were identified: 1) Heroes uplift others (inspire, offer hope, remind about the good in the world) but they can also disappoint; 2) Heroes model good (or moral) behaviour but they can also model bad behaviour; 3) Heroes protect others and help others to cope (provide emotional and social support, boost self-efficacy, provide social control) but young people may over-rely on their heroes on occasion; 4) Heroes provide an important role in support of identity exploration and formation – often representing the ‘ideal self’ but at times may offer an unrealistic standard of comparison. These findings provide a nuanced view of the role of heroes in the lives of adolescents, and a novel perspective of both the positive and negative consequences of having heroes during adolescence.





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