“I am a black West Indian British-born woman enjoying working as a legal secretary. I am writing about Darren, my 15-year-old son - who has been an increasing problem recently with his joy-riding. He keeps doing it and I can’t stop him. His father lives sometimes with us and sometimes with another black woman nearby who is with child by him. Darren and his father despise me for my concerns - calling me a wimp and saying I do not understand men or black culture. My next-door neighbour - a white professional woman - said much the same. I am worried Darren will end up in one of these special units for young offenders.”
Ms L.A. enjoys her responsible job but everything else in her life looks problematic. She has a teenage son in difficulties and a part-time partner who will soon have a child by another woman. Even before we consider her feelings about black culture or her partner’s encouragement of delinquency in their son, her painful personal predicament needs acknowledging.
As psychotherapist Dr Estela Welldon comments, “This mother is facing a difficult time which can only get worse if it is not addressed. I would not be surprised if she experienced serious depression. Her son is behaving delinquently, her partner is devaluing her and conducting another relationship and once the new baby is born her son is likely to experience her as even more devalued than before. Indeed, without help, the mother and son are also likely to continue sabotaging their family unit- spoiling the support they could get from each other.” Ms L.A. enjoys working within a legal environment and yet somehow she has selected a partner who breaks relationship codes and encourages a son to break legal codes. Is she a victim of male delinquency or are all three somehow influencing and maintaining this state of affairs?
Whilst mother and son are unable to support each other, father and son are joined in a delinquent pairing using” black culture” as an excuse aided and abetted by their white next-door neighbour as well. Lennox Thomas, clinical director of Nafsiyat, the multicultural organisation that provides brief psychotherapy, consultation and training to agencies who work with these issues, will have no truck with such excuses whether they come from white or black individuals.
“The father has left his son without a good male image. That is something he is responsible for but is abdicating. Blaming black culture is denigrating what is culturally good about Caribbean living. Indeed, what the father is doing is operating a kind of thinking adopted by the rest of white society whilst at the same time being part of the problem”. He understands joyriding as Darren’s attempt to find strategies to get his mother and father together to take control of him.
However, it does not look as if the father is wanting such agreement to be reached. Almost at the moment of bringing a new life into this world, he is placing all soft vulnerable feelings into Ms L.A. only to mock her as a wimp. In a controversial new book, “Why men hate women” psychotherapist Adam Jukes underlines a view that all men, forced to move from an initial identification with mothers, hate in female attachment figures, the vulnerability they cannot tolerate in themselves. He argues that for most men the impact of that first loss is a wish to relate to women through control and domination.
Ms L A is bringing complex gender issues. She is being castigated as a no-good male - a wimp- as punishment for trying to uphold a legal boundary and her partner is seeing their 15-year-old boy as an equal man. Encouraging a son to joy-ride to avoid being a wimp is worrying parental behaviour in an adult male.
How about Darren? Is his behaviour serious? Dr Christopher Cordess, consultant forensic psychiatrist, comments “The joy-riding is clearly compulsive as he keeps doing it. Joy-riding is a strange name as it can end up with such tragic consequences. However, it is the risk element that is so exciting for such teenagers. That excitement can often be the way out of a rather desperate situation - in this case the parental one- and a misguided attempt to enlist self-esteem. A lot of other offending behaviour tries to do that too. This behaviour- whilst looking innocuous can have disastrous consequences. It is necessary to understand the child and the particular symptom as well as improving car locks! Delinquent behaviour needs early intervention before it gets too strong a hold on the personality”.
Dr Cordess also noted Ms L A’s fear and hope that Darren might end up in a secure unit. Like other professionals, he has serious reservations about these proposed new units since the statements of policy have concentrated on care, education and control but there has been no mention of treatment in general or psychological treatment including psychotherapy in particular. He chairs a newly formed network of professionals concerned with the young criminal mind and current policy, research and options for treatment.
What about the new baby? Is the timing of this letter linked to particularly difficult feelings about this event? Ms. L.A., her partner, his new partner, Darren and the new baby make a complex new family unit. A birth can evoke fears of displacement in the most stable unit. Support now might make that new experience more tolerable.