Are Malia Obama and Dante de Blasio role models for black teens?

theGRIO REPORT - TIME magazine recently declared Dante de Blasio and Malia Obama two its '16 most influential teens of 2013'...

TIME magazine recently declared Dante de Blasio and Malia Obama two of its “16 most influential teens of 2013.” The two youngsters have garnered attention as members of unconventional political families, making them role models for many – especially young people of color.

“As young people are forming an identity, they’re looking at figures and reference points that affirm who they are. [Dante and Malia’s] presence has the potential for significant contribution,” says David Wall Rice, professor at Morehouse College and expert in identity psychology. “As reference points, these young people are affirming the identities of many young people of color and making a statement to the broader world about their potential to be healthy and whole.”

theGrio: Dante de Blasio, Malia Obama named to TIME’s ‘most influential teens’          

It was a sentiment echoed by Emily Carpenter, an 18-year-old youth organizer, who spoke last year with MSNBC’s Melissa Harris-Perry on what the president’s daughters mean to her.

“I didn’t really know what it was gong to mean for me to have the Obama family in the White House,” Carpenter told Harris-Perry. “Seeing someone that kind of looks like me has been even more influential, not just for me but for my little cousins. To see people in positions of power, in positions that mean something, that aren’t just in the entertainment industry… to see Sasha, Malia and Michelle and President Obama is really important.”

Rice says, however, that despite how admirable Dante or Malia might be, it’s important for those that look up to them — and the nation as a whole — to remember the influential teens are still really just kids thrust into the spotlight.

“They’re cool and neat. We can relate to them but the most effective role models for young people are those that can be heard, seen and felt,” Rice says. “When talking about role modeling for your people, it’s good to have these figures that they can respect and relate to but it’s always important that there is a person really in their life that can help mediate the images for them.”

Aside from what they represent symbolically, the Obama daughters are often evoked by the president in reference to his policy decisions. He mentioned them when signing the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act into law in 2009 and when rallying parents around gun reform in the wake of the Sandy Hook school shooting.

Like the Obama daughters, Dante de Blasio’s influence extends beyond being just a member of a “first family.” The 16-year-old son of New York City mayor-elect Bill de Blasio was recognized by TIME for his involvement in the recent election where his father swept to victory with the support of young and minority voters.

Sporting a large afro, Dante was in the forefront of his dad’s campaign with a starring role in the most talked-about ad of the entire race and speaking out on the issue of racial discrimination in policing. Campaign watchers agreed the visual of Dante walking shoulder to shoulder with his father made a strong impact on voters.

In an interview last month with theGrio, Bill de Blasio admitted his son gave the campaign a boost, but said it was due to more than his sheer presence and memorable hair.

“I think people responded to Dante for a lot of reasons,” de Blasio said. “They saw him as someone who epitomized the folks who are being affected by stop-and-frisk, but also I think people heard a strong, confident young man and it was admirable – just generally admirable.”

Undoubtedly, as they grow into adults before the nation’s eyes, Malia Obama and Dante de Blasio will continue to have some impact. Recently, in fact, President Obama revealed that Malia’s peanut allergy inspired his signing a bill into law that encourages states to equip their schools with first-line treatment for people with severe allergies.

And soon, Dante will become even more visible in New York politics as the first child of a sitting New York City mayor to be enrolled in the city’s public school system. Both will become of voting age during their fathers’ terms.

If, in the future, Malia or Dante decide to remain influential in public life, they’ll be joining a list of former first kids that includes Chelsea Clinton, Ron Reagan, Caroline Kennedy and even former president George W. Bush.

Follow Donovan X. Ramsey at @iDXR.