Where is the discretion?
Are some adults so enamored by the term "mentoring" that they will allow anyone access to their children so long as it falls under the ever-widening umbrella of mentoring?
Consider two recent cases of rappers/singers notoriously known for their involvement with drugs, guns and violence who have now decided they want to tell young people about their lives.
In February, singer Bobby Brown negotiated with a court in Massachusetts to allow him to forgo prison time in lieu of spending several hours mentoring young people, something he wanted to do anyway, according to his lawyer.
This is the same Bobby Brown who is a perennial violator of the law, whose past includes charges of drug abuse - in the most recent case accused of using cocaine while in a parked car - and physical violence against others, including his own family.
Now, it seems, Brown has figured out that if he takes a few troubled youths under his wing and discusses the error of his ways, he can avoid prison - again.
More recently, the well-known rapper T.I. pleaded guilty to having unregistered machine guns and being a felon in possession of a firearm. Note, the charge "felon in possession of firearm." That means this is not his first time through the criminal justice system. In any event, he worked out a deal with prosecutors that would reduce the amount of time he will spend in prison if only he will spend 1,000 hours talking to youth about topics with which he is apparently most familiar: drugs, gangs, violence and guns.
In the examples of Brown and T.I. - and there are undoubtedly more swirling around the troubled youth of our country - these two men apparently felt no inner desire to mentor young people and show them the error of their ways. If they did, I submit they would not have to be ordered under penalty of prison to do it but would have been donating their time long before facing a judge.
But these high-profile mentors are seemingly having the desired effect. According to news reports, community organizers are falling over each other to request T.I. to show up at youth functions. Recently, the rapper spoke to students at Stockbridge High School.
This leaves me scratching my head. I cannot imagine wanting either of my children to listen to anything these men have to say. These are not the sort of "role models" I would want them to emulate.
Mentors are developed, not made. Arranged marriages are not the ideal in our culture, and it seems hard to believe that arranged parenting could be much better.
I think we can all point to people in our lives, outside our own mothers and fathers, who had a profound influence on our lives as we were making our way into adulthood. But I would submit that the most meaningful of those relationships were not organized by a third party and dictated how many hours a day were to be spent together and outlined certain activities to do together. Neither, I would guess, were these relationships ordered by a court in an effort to help a criminal with an ulterior motive, namely to avoid jail time. I feel pretty confident those relationships developed out of their own volition with the "mentor" taking a natural interest in the "protégé," even though these labels were likely not attached.
Most often, mentoring is designed to help those children who live in troubled environments or who live with only one parent who has to work long and odd hours just to make ends meet.
But this makes my point even more salient, I believe.
It seems many parents leap at the chance to have another person take over the role of showing their children how to be adults. Parents, be cautious about who is calling himself a mentor to your children. School boards and organizers of community programs that bring these kinds of speakers to the community, use some discretion. Ask yourselves whether these celebrities would be willing to come to your event if not under threat of imprisonment. Ask yourselves if their message is sincere. I would encourage you to call it what it is and avoid calling it what it isn't. Inviting T.I. or Bobby Brown to speak before a group of students is not providing community service. It is providing a show for young people who might otherwise not have the opportunity to see these entertainers in person.