Sports stars such as David Beckham and Michael Schumacher may impress young boys, but they are not their heroes, according to a study.
Instead, the men who most 13 to 18-year-olds look up to are their fathers, close family friends and teachers rather than the rich and famous.
The findings will add weight to campaigns to recruit more male teachers into schools and to involve fathers in their children's education.
Last October, the Training and Development Agency for Schools launched a renewed campaign to entice more men into teaching after figures showed fewer than 16 per cent of primary staff were men.
Campaigns such as Dads into Schools Days and the Active Dads scheme in parts of England were aimed at encouraging men to become involved in their children's education.
A school-based project looking at the adolescent experiences of pupils in 25 all-boys' schools in New Zealand also urged mothers to take a step back and let men do most of the rearing of their sons.
The Good Man Project was set up two years ago to look at how to best to educate boys into adulthood. It was led by Celia Lashlie, a former men's prison warden, who spoke to hundreds of young men about their hopes, fears and experiences of growing up.
Her findings are contained in a book entitled He'll be Ok - Growing Gorgeous Boys into Good Men, which became a best-seller in New Zealand.
The study identified three groups of men that young boys look up to.
The first were men in the public eye, usually international figures, including David Beckham the England football captain, who impressed boys with their wealth and glamorous life-styles.
The second comprised sportsmen, such as racing driver Michael Schumacher and the All-Blacks rugby team, who had achieved excellence in their fields and were admired for their dedication.
Ms Lashlie asked pupils whether they considered these to be "good men".
She said: "The boys replied 'dunno, don't know them', that is, they couldn't answer the question because they had no idea what sort of people these men actually were."
The findings led her to create a third category of men, who were their fathers, grandfathers, older brothers, coaches and teachers.
"It's here rather than in the public arena that we should be looking for potential positive role models," she said.
"The real answer to such problems as youth suicide, youth offending and imprisonment... lies in strengthening boys' links to the good men in their immediate circle."
She said one of the challenges was to attract more men into teaching.
"There are a number of reasons for the dearth of male teachers at early childhood and primary level, not least the political correctness that is strangling us as a society," Ms Lashlie said.
"The solutions won't be easily found, but find them we must."