Mary (names have been changed to protect the innocent), more than anyone on the U-13 girls soccer team I coached, longed for a hug. The only daughter in a dysfunctional family of five (dad, mom, and two older brothers) Mary had suffered through the painful divorce of her parents, the drug dependency of her eldest sibling, and being ignored by her other brother. All of Mary’s actions at practices screamed of the desire to have a strong male role model in her life, and each afternoon, she would return home to an absence of the very thing for which she craved. Through fifteen years of teaching and coaching, my own experience as a mentor has boiled down to this one question, “What does the child need?” The answer to this question determines the type of mentor a child requires.
The divorce rate in the United States, the over-riding statistic affecting most children today, holds one of the key factors in determining a child’s mentoring needs. With the marriage-divorce rate reaching, and in many places surpassing, fifty percent, many children today live in homes with only one parent. Add this to the staggering number of children born out of wedlock, and one could easily argue that the majority of youth in the United States live in environments where they know only one parent. Even in the cases where joint custody applies, children find themselves forced to relate to at least one parent on a part-time basis, meaning this parent is never fully known or understood by his or her child, placing the part-time parent in a situation where it is at least difficult, if not impossible, to be a proper role model. Therefore, in at least fifty percent of homes across the United States children are growing up without the influence of a strong male or female mentor, simply because of the current divorce rate.
However, this statistic alone fails to account for the complete answer to what type of mentorship our children most need. Because the American court system when dealing with custody hearings has a tendency to side in favor of the mother (and I view this as neither right nor wrong) most children of legally defined dysfunctional families find themselves without a strong male role model. Therefore, it is only reasonable that in most split families these children seek out a male to fill this void. While this is not always the case, during my fifteen years of dealing with children, it has more often been the case than not. This said, I have also experienced enough athletes and students, both male and female, who have responded well to a female coach or teacher simply because those children lacked a strong female role model in their lives. In other words, the mentor any child needs is based on what is missing in his or her life.
For Mary, she sought out a strong male role model because her life lacked that person. Each day at practice, I tried my best to be that male influence for Mary, and even as needy as she sometimes seemed to be, I am almost certain the outward display of her needs marked only a small percentage of the needs she kept hidden. Sadly, Mary moved away the next year, and I never have found out if she ever was able to establish that necessary male mentor relationship. In most arguments, I hate to ride the “it-depends” line, however in the case of the mentorship of our youth, it truly does depend on the needs of the child.