This episode and others highlight the role parents and the extended family play in the undoing of children. Many of the boys are suffering from abandonment issues with absentee fathers, some of whom have served jail time and battled addictions of their own. In one episode, Dr. Perry tells a father he needs to “Man up!” after the father laments he doesn’t know what to do to help his son.
The show also highlights the fact that black women are not superwomen and don’t always know what to do or how to raise children. Furthermore, black women are tired from being sole providers in many cases and need help raising children. In watching Save My Son, it becomes clear that parenting classes should be mandatory for all parents, because many don’t have the skill set or role models needed to raise successful, well-adjusted children.
Save My Son does a good job of showing the complexities of raising male children without demonizing black women. The show highlights the fact that all children need positive role models — boys and girls — because when they don’t have them, not only are they personally at risk, their entire families are also at risk. This is a show that asks hard questions and deals with difficult answers, taking to task everyone involved in the downfall of the children. Fathers need to be present and accountable in the lives of their children. Mothers need to impose boundaries and follow through with consequences for bad behavior, no matter the cost.
Missing from the show is the presence of counselors or psychologists, who are needed; some of these kids, like Malik, are clearly in crisis. These children’s needs are also emotional and psychological and warrant the support of a mental-health professional. If a child is engaging in self-mutilation and saying he doesn’t care whether he lives or dies, then he is clearly in need of mental-health services. Perhaps such support is happening behind the scenes but not being included in the show.
Save My Son is a reality show that faces reality head-on. What are the real consequences of having 70 percent of black children raised in households without fathers? What does it do to the self-esteem of a young person abandoned by a parent? Why are black mothers afraid of “losing” their sons but unwilling or unable to do what is necessary to save them? Why are gifted and talented young black boys willing to throw their lives away so easily?
Save My Son is a reality show worth watching because it challenges our reality in an effort to improve the lives of those on the show and those who are watching. Save room on the DVR for Save My Son.
Nsenga K. Burton, Ph.D., is editor-at-large for The Root. She is also editor-in-chief of the Burton Wire, a blog dedicated to world news related to the African Diaspora and global culture. Follow her on Twitter.