(The Root) — Reality television has been taken to task for being a wasteland of contrived situations, abhorrent behavior and the exploitation of women, children and poor people. Finally, a television network has managed to pull together a reality show that focuses on women and children without being exploitative in nature; instead, TV One’s Save My Son, hosted by educator Dr. Steve Perry, attempts to intervene in the lives of boys who are at risk of becoming statistics — either serving time in prison or lying six feet underground because of criminal behavior.
At the heart of this show are Dr. Perry’s efforts to tackle this subject by including the family, most of whom appear to be single women trying to raise young men without the presence of a father in the home.
Dr. Perry introduces viewers to the child and the child’s family dynamics, carefully laying out the problems he is facing. Perry includes celebrity mentors such as Steve Harvey, Jalen Rose, Derek Anderson, Ruben Studdard, actor Pooch Hall and self-help guru Iyanla Vanzant. The host has candid conversations with parents who may be doing more harm than good because of an unwillingness to see what’s going on in the lives of their children or their role in perpetuating dysfunctional behavior.
Save My Son is a powerful show because it truly demonstrates all of the factors that come into play when children go wrong. Each story starts out the same — essentially a great, outgoing, loyal and loving kid who slowly becomes someone else during his tween years. While many of the mothers feign ignorance about the chain of events, Dr. Perry walks them down the path of how this happened and what needs to change so that the child’s life can be saved.
The show does an excellent job of showing the gifts these children possess. One episode features Justin, suspended from school multiple times. He has anger-management issues and has been disrespectful toward his mother. During an intervention, Justin begins to play classical piano effortlessly, having said that he wants to be a music producer. Without the proper guidance, preparation, boundaries and mentorship, Justin is headed for a life of crime or imprisonment instead of the world’s stage, where he could easily land.
We learn that Justin is devastated by his father abandoning him, and his mother is hesitant to impose restrictions because she is afraid of him and doesn’t want to lose Justin’s love.
Another boy, 14-year-old Malik, is seriously in trouble; he’s missed 50-plus days of school, joined a gang, bought and used drugs and disappeared for days at a time. Malik is completely disconnected from his effect on his family. His mother and grandmother are in denial about the crisis he is in; his grandmother literally runs out of his intervention because she cannot or will not believe he has bought drugs with money she has given him, even though Malik tells her multiple times he bought drugs with the money.