There are more than enough depressing/infuriating/worrying news items to rant about here – climate change; wars; torture; erosion of civil liberties; random shootings; economic chaos; and so on ad nauseam. Which is why it’s all the more satisfying to be able to indulge in a completely irrelevant piece of spleen-venting, about someone that I’ll never meet and about a subject that is of no importance to the rest of the world.
Julie Myerson is a well-paid and successful writer who threw out her 17-year-old son, leaving him homeless and penniless. Then she wrote a novel about him and what a bad lot he was. Which got loads of publicity (to which I am foolishly contributing) as it turned out that lad, now 19, was less than pleased. It was also revealed in today’s Guardian that she was also the writer of a drivelly column (in the routinely unread Family Saturday supplement) about living with teenagers.
Her excuse for this throwing-a-child-on-the-street action – which would surely have brought normal people to the attention of Social Services – was his alleged addiction to smoking weed. (I kid you not)
Since then, she has been in all the tabloids. Her stance has been seen by some as “tough love” and plenty of other parents have been moved to tell their stories in the media. In the course of this media spectacle, the boy has even been allowed to express some of his feelings about his adolescence having being treated as book-promoting fodder.
Unfortunately, he’s not a professional writer so he hasn’t had the privileged access to the media. He’s only been able to talk about what the theft of his life has meant. He hasn’t been able to discuss how he feels about being so massively let down by the people who were supposed to care for him, for instance. Unlike his mother, he hasn’t been interviewed sympathetically on shows like BBC Breakfast. Unlike his mother, he’s the one whose prospects of getting accepted – by his peers, potential employers, and so on – as an autonomous adult have been shattered.
Now, this letter in today’s Guardian expressed, much better than I can, exactly what you would assume any sane person would feel about this, so I’m repeating it in full:
I worked for many years as a child psychologist and never came across any examples of severe behavioural problems in adolescents caused by cannabis use. What I did come across constantly were adults with appalling parenting skills who wished to attribute their children’s behavioural difficulties to food additives, ADHD, peer-group pressures or anything else which might distract from their own responsibility for the situation. Some teenagers do indeed become hard to handle as they get older. Some lose interest in satisfying their parents’ aspirations. Some listen to loud music. In general trying to get along with them as best one can and making sure they get plenty to eat is the best policy. Splattering complaints all over the media, inventing addictions and throwing the young person onto the streets is generally less successful. I would not recommend any parent to take the Myerson’s advice on bringing up children.
(from Greg McMillanrey Edinburgh)(I added the bold)
But this seems to be something of a minority view. For instance, A Smith says
I would like to thank Julie Myerson for having the courage to talk about an ordeal that is shared by probably thousands of loving families in this country.
Well, Julie, here’s some “tough love” from me – OK, this might just seem like unsought destructive verbal abuse, but I may have to refer to “pots” and “kettles.” (“You can dish it out but you can’t take it” and so on.)
When I saw you on today’s BBC Breakfast, I instantly thought how much I would hate to be trapped in a lift with you. You seemed completely self-obsessed, not to mention on the verge of a breakdown. You seemed so manically self-justifying, that I would have been sympathetic, were it not for the fact that you still don’t understand that you have done anything wrong to your son. You were just having a “me, me, poor me” fest. It was disturbing and baffling that people were emailing and ringing to support you, as if lots of shit parents were trying to block their innate awareness of their responsibilities by all joining in to make the blatant shittiness seem normal.
I can’t believe that you ever took your son’s real feelings into account at any stage in his life. I think you and your husband can’t relate to anything that doesn’t fit into your “perfect family” fantasy world. (Oh, we’re such a wacky family! Aren’t we lovably chaotic? So child-centred. We’re always pushed for time. And our teenagers swear! Tee Hee! And it all revolves around ME. )
As soon as your son started becoming an adolescent, it threatened your control of this imaginary world. So you scapegoated him for pretty average adolescent behaviour, then you decided that there was no blame to be attached anywhere except for the fact that he smoked weed.
Picking on one family member and making them bear the responsibility for any conflict in the home is using a scapegoat to dump all your own problems. This is pretty disgusting bullying in any circumstance. It’s indefensible if you do it to your own kids. Why did you give birth, ffs, if you weren’t going to respect your offspring?
Emotional abuse is emotional abuse, no matter how middle-class and well-paid you are and no matter how skillful you are at using the media to carry out your abuse and to collude in it, it’s still abuse.