The Case for Mentorship

If there is a noticeable characteristic that separates America from all other civilizations that have ever existed, it’s our propensity for change. Modern America was founded by Puritans seeking to change their continual, cantankerous relationship with the Church of England by getting the heck out of Britain and coming to the New World. The American Revolution sought to change the relationship between governmental powers and its citizens. The American Civil War sought to change the definition of who really was a legitimate citizen.

And America isn’t just about using war to bring about change. The United States has been the most productive and creative nation that has ever existed due to its fascination with innovation and change. Simply look around your house and figure out where all your stuff was invented. Light bulbs? America? Television? Air Conditioning? Microwave Oven? Telephone? Blue Jeans? The list goes on and on.

Change can be a catalyst of unprecedented goodness and prosperity. But it can also wreak havoc when it is allowed to proceed unchecked. Such is the case with the change to the modern American family. In the 1960’s, the United States underwent a massive cultural revolution and the definition of love, marriage and family were radically redefined. Parents no longer had to be married to have children, no-fault divorce was easily obtained, and mom and dad spent substantially less time with their kids than their parents had with them. And what has been the result of this change? Between 1980 and 1996, juvenile violent arrest rates went up 68% and juvenile aggravated assault is up more than 120%. Nearly half of high school seniors have used illegal drugs within the past year. There are over one million teenage pregnancies annually. In fact, virtually every social problem with young people has increased exponentially since the 1960’s. And the main cause, as has been documented by countless studies, is the breakdown of the family.

Family bonds, once strong, are now in tatters – especially in the inner city. And there is an entire generation that has or is growing up (Generation X and Y) that have been physically and/or emotionally abandoned by mom and dad. So where are today’s kids to go when their family has failed them? The answer: caring adults – those few, brave souls who look outside the confines of their own lives to reach out to children in need.

There is a vociferous blame game being played today. Some say youth dysfunction is the fault of the public school system, media violence or failing government programs. But the real problem is deeper than that. The underlying cause is that very few adults want to personally get involved with troubled kids. True, kids can be unpredictable, angry, disrespectful and may smell a little weird. But there is no other way to change the course of our nation’s children than by one-on-one mentorship. And mentors don’t have to be like a Mr. Miagi in Karate Kid. A weekly lunch at a local school or attendance at a child’s basketball game can go a long way. There is an incredible, inherent value in just being there. A little consistency is what so many kids need today.

There isn’t nor ever will be a replacement for a solid, intact family. But right now the American family is going the wrong way on a one-way track. But we can change this trend. We can again begin to build strong families by building up those who will lead our future families. And caring adults making a commitment to the younger generation is the first and greatest step in this process.

America is about change. And we can change for the better. Hitler’s biggest mistake in World War II was underestimating how quickly America could change from a peace to a war economy. Factories that had been producing consumer goods were soon churning out more tanks and artillery shells than the Nazis could have possible imagined. And this capacity for change saved our nation – and our world. But can this capacity for change carry over into a renewed commitment for our nation’s youth? Only time will tell. But change begins with us. So get involved with a local charity and go help out some kids. Or go start your own organization. Go change things for the better. Go change things forever.

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