The 2013 Academy Awards have come and gone, but this year the Oscars decided to follow a theme celebrating the movie musicals. Of course, the most prominent musical in theatres in 2012 was Oscar-nominated, Les Misérables. I first saw the musical twenty years ago in London, and I have seen it several times since then including the latest version on the big screen; I know every word by heart. Why do I mention it? One of the qualities of good literature (be it written, spoken or sung) is that a person can find new dimensions or “lessons” in the story each time he or she is exposed to it. Recently, I was struck by the character Javert, who is the law officer in constant pursuit of the story’s hero, Jean Val Jean, for breaking parole. However, we learn early in the story that Jean Val Jean spent nineteen years in jail for stealing a loaf of bread to save his sister’s son and then later trying to escape. It seems a tad excessive.
When Jean Val Jean breaks his parole so that he can start a new life, it is a new life where he is so law abiding, he eventually becomes Mayor of his town. The conflict goes on and on between Javert and Jean Val Jean, and it struck me that if Javert could have given Jean Val Jean a second chance, a great deal of pain and suffering could have been avoided—for both of them. By stubbornly sticking to rigid moral beliefs without showing any flexibility, Javert makes his own life miserable in a life-long search for a man who in reality becomes one of the most upstanding members of his community. Imagine how Javert’s life could have been different if he could have shown the slightest bit of grace, understanding, or caring toward Jean Val Jean’s situation. SPOILER ALERT!!! Because Javert cannot live with finally letting Jean Val Jean go to save the life of Marius, he ends up committing suicide. He is SO rigid in his beliefs about “right” and “wrong” that it drives him to take his own life.
What does this have to do with Teen Mentoring? I’ll ask this: What if we possess the same rigid beliefs that Javert does? Could we successfully mentor our kids? How can any adult who works with teenagers hold such “black and white” beliefs and connect effectively with teens? That’s not to mean that teens do not need guidelines and limitations; however, this is the key concept that cannot be forgotten: THEY ARE TEENAGERS! They are going to screw up from time to time. Their brains have not developed completely, not to mention all of the pressures teens face from peers, the media, parents, etc…. Giving a teenager a second chance may be the greatest gift a Teen Mentor can give to a kiddo who has many other challenges than most teenagers. It could possibly release some of the intense pressure your kiddo is facing and might help them stay alive instead of ending up like Javert.