Malala Yousafzai is a Pakistani teenager who was shot in the face by the Taliban for defending girls' rights to go to school. In a world of pop music and reality TV stars, she stands as a real heroine for our kids, doing real work to change the world in critical ways.

To my surprise, a good portion of the public outrage surrounding the whole Miley Cyrus VMA fiasco focused on how Miley had "let kids down" through her performance, how she abused her position as a role model for young girls. All I could think was, "If your daughter looks up to a modern-day pop star for a role model, you need to have a serious talk with your daughter."

If your daughter looks up to a modern-day pop star for a role model, you need to have a serious talk with your daughter.

Now, I'm no genius, but I think there are better humans on the planet to serve as a role models than a former Disney actress. It's a nice idea that an actress would be a good role model, but any mainstream media source will be fueled by mainstream media interests: sex, glamor, attention.

So it's always the same story. Always.

Personally, I look elsewhere for young heroes and heroines for my kids, so when a teenager like Malala Yousafzai comes into the spotlight, my first move is to share her with my kids, tell her story, let them see what a real hero/heroine looks like. Malala is a Pakistani girl who was shot in the face by the Taliban for defending girls' rights to go to school. She was shot at point-blank range on a school bus in retaliation to "blog posts she wrote and interviews she'd given about her desire for an education despite the Taliban takeover of her home in Pakistan's Swat Valley" (source).

Here are 5 reasons Malala is a role model for my kids.

  1. She stands up for what she believes. Malala was raised to believe in education. Her father encouraged her to go to school. She held on to who she is. She was true to her deepest self. That's what heroes do. Heroes do not waver in the face of opposition, but rather hold fast to that which they know to be true.

  2. She's brave. She knew she had been targeted by the Taliban. She knew they disapproved of her and were watching her, but she did not give up her work. She did not give up fighting for what she believes. I couldn't have done that. I'm almost positive if I found out I was being targeted by violent extremists I would throw up my hands and say, "Um, yeah. I was just kidding about the whole education thing. It's cool. I'm good." I do not have Malala's bravery.

  3. She's humble with a sense of humor. If you listen to her interviews or watch her on television, you will see a humble, "real" girl, just a kid laughing and being herself. She is not pretentious, self-congratulatory or falsely humble. She's real, and honest.

  4. She's sensitive and insightful. When you listen to Malala speak, you hear a person who understands a bigger picture. Her love for humanity and girls in Pakistan is profound, and she's willing to do what she can to create change. A lot of people talk. She's done more than talk. She's acted.

  5. She believes in peace and non-violence:

    "Even if there was a gun in my hand and he was standing in front of me, I would not shoot him [referring to the member of the Taliban that shot her in October of 2012].

    This is the compassion I have learned from Mohamed, the prophet of mercy, Jesus Christ and Lord Buddha. This the legacy of change I have inherited from Martin Luther King, Nelson Mandela and Mohammed Ali Jinnah. This is the philosophy of nonviolence that I have learned from Gandhi, Bacha Khan and Mother Teresa.

    And this is the forgiveness that I have learned from my father and from my mother. This is what my soul is telling me: Be Peaceful and Love Everyone." (source)

I don't think there's anything to add after that.

Except "thank you for showing my kids what a true heroine looks like."

But mostly, thank you for what you're doing for girls in Pakistan. You're walking in the path of the heroes and heroines before you, and we're all looking up to you, for what you are and what you'll become.

More on raising teenagers

I'm the mother, I should know (but I don't)
How to deal with tween tantrums
Let's make girls unstoppable

Photo credit: Bizu/