Blaming Mother is the oldest excuse for child behaviour on record. The first thing people reflect upon when a child commits a horrific crime tends to be what type of dysfunctional home the kid lived in. To an extent, I believe there is truth to this factor. However, there is proof that many criminals hail from childhoods and families that were without incident and were quite tranquil and “normal.” Still, these children and teens kill and no one, even psychiatrists, know why. It would appear however that the massive armchair psychiatrist public has it all figured out. Mother (not father, for some reason) is to blame. Occasionally when daddy’s role in a child’s abusive environment is revealed, people turn the blame where it rightly belongs. Why is it that it begins with Mother? And what of children who may possibly have inherited criminal behaviour, rather than having been influenced by a negative childhood)? Sometimes a blameworthy reaction may well be in order. Mothers and fathers are known to defend their criminal children and teenagers in the face of overwhelming evidence suggesting otherwise. Indeed this type of denial enrages the community where young victims have been tortured and killed. However it is proven that violent, angry children also hail from healthy, loving homes: these children are an anomaly.
On the heels of my update on Venables and Thompson’s murder of James Bulger in Liverpool, England, I discovered an article that stated to many, these two women (the boys’ fathers seem somehow to have been absolved of blame) were responsible for the death of the two-year-old abducted in the Strand shopping centre in Bootle. Public reaction at first was horror, shock, then why? Predictably, people decided it must have been their lack of care, love, or firm parental control that led to James’ torture and death on a railway line. However, when mothers of children who kill lie about their childrens’ home life and their own role in the chlidrens’ crime, people are justified in their anger. In an article I researched detailing the two mothers’ reactions to their sons’ murder of little James, Susan Venables had this to say:
‘I don’t think we went wrong as parents at all. He has had more love and attention than a lot of children I know. He has been educated. He has never really been what you would call a sagger off school (a truant). He has had his holidays like everyone else. He has had Christmas presents…’Contrary to what the papers will tell you, he is not a little urchin boy. He is
far from it. He has had security with loving parents and a loving brother and
If Susan Venables’ account of her son’s childhood is accurate, then indeed his actions are baffling. However, this is where denial arises. Reporters have revealed that Jon Venables parents, Susan and Neil Venables separated when their son was four. Susan was known as the town “whore”. She was prone to hysteria and hailed from a ‘strict and disciplined’ background. On many occasions, Susan was observed physically and verbally assaulting Jon. Jon lived in terror of losing his mother’s love, yet he was also terrified of her. He exhibited highly disturbed behaviour in school, banging his head on his desk and attempting to strangle a peer with such ferocity that it took two teachers to pull him off the other child. Clearly, the young Jon Venables was not an ordinary boy who had security “with loving parents and a loving brother and sister.”
Venables’ behaviour during police interrogation implied he was the more emotional and vulnerable of the deadly duo. He frequently cried and at one point, threw himself into the arms of a detective for comfort. Thompson on the other hand, was far more streetwise than one would expect of a 10-year-old. He spoke without remorse and matter-of-factly about the murder, blaming Venerables. Thompson was a member of what can only be described as a terribly dysfunctional family. The boys grew up ‘afraid of each other’. They bit, hammered, battered, tortured each other. Ann and her 16-year-old son Philip had previously taken overdoses. At one time, it was revealed, Philip was placed in foster care at his own request. The father had abandoned his family years earlier. There were significant age gaps between the 5 brothers in the Thompson family. These factors had to contribute to Thompsons’ criminal history.
Ann Thompson was demonised in the media as a fat, drunk, uncaring mother. Once again, her absent husband was curiously left alone by the press. However, it was difficult not to note Ann’s sparse attendance in Preston Crown court, as her son barely comprehended what was going on around him. Perhaps she was too afraid to attend court in case the public abuse of her person continued. A former neighbour commented, “Ann lives in terror of being discovered by neighbours or anyone who might recognise her when she is out shopping. It is as if she thinks of herself walking around with a sign above her head: Mother of Bulger Murderer.”
It would seem there are some people who feel sympathy for the mothers of these two boys. In an article entitled Jon Venables is No Longer the Guilty Boy who Killed James Bulger, Brian Masters focuses not on Venables mother, but on Venables, insisting Venables is rehabilitated and deserves a second chance by the public. To continue feeding indignation against a 10-year-old boy who glimpsed Hell, and who knew it, is at best unworthy, and at worst is itself a manifestation of wickedness. Masters doesn’t focus on vilifying Susan Venables (if indeed she should be vilified). I would suggest that Susan was a weak and angry mother, unable to cope and without the skills to parent her sons. She suffered from severe depression and certainly she was addicted to alcohol. I don’t know that this makes her the sole responsibility for her son’s terrible act although these facts cannot exonerate her. This is a mother who lacked the wherewithal to raise her children. She didn’t recognize her sons’ behaviour as abhorrent because it was present within herself.
The focus of Masters’ article is Venables’ suffering, not that of anyone in his family. Of course the article, written in 2010, reveals the author’s naivety (or perhaps uninformed journalism) about Jon Venables. Venables may no longer be the guilty 10-year-old boy who murdered James Bulger. Now he is the repeat offender who revels in downloading child pornography on his home computer and continues to break several conditions of his parole. It would appear that Venables’ glimpse into Hell hasn’t rehabilitated him. Clearly he cannot be trusted and still belongs behind bars.
Fast forward to April 4, 2009 also in Britain, two young boys, one being 9-years-old, were found savagely attacked. One boy was found in shock, wandering the streets covered in blood. His friend was found in a wooded area on the verge of coma. For 90 minutes, both boys had been burned with electricity, beaten and sexually assaulted by two young offenders. The boys weren’t beaten to death simply because the attackers became fatigued. Although the children weren’t yet adolescents, the criminal brothers had a history of assault and battery, including the torture of animals and arson. The family was known to social services; the brothers were moved into foster care 3 weeks before the assault. The parenting skills were non-existent and the boys hadn’t been raised well. There was violence and crime in the family. The brothers’ parents showed complete indifference in the brothers’ behaviour. It is fair to suggest in this case that faulty parenting contributed significantly to the brothers’ criminal history. It is impossible to determine whether the boys had a pathological defect, due to their dysfunctional upbringing. At any rate, it is highly unlikely that both boys would have genetically inherited psychopathy.
In another article examining blaming parents for their childrens’ misbehaviour, a boy named Ethan was always unconditionally sweet and easy to get along with then suddenly, Ethan became extra bossy on the playground, and mildly bullying the younger kids. He was never violent, but he wasn’t likable. His mom, Fiona, got the sense that the other moms were blaming her for Ethan’s acting out.But to what extent are children really reflections of us? To some degree, they are, certainly. It is undeniable that adults are motivated to encourage children to do things that satisfy parent needs rather than the child’s. Perhaps parents stifle children and deprive them of developing a solid sense of self. In extreme cases, this may lead to severe personality disorders, such as borderline personality disorder, narcissism, or criminal behaviour.
The problem with the psychopath child is that we don’t know the cause of this disturbing disorder. Blaming families can be misguided. I’ve seen at least one documentary and read a number of articles that suggests the pathological child who is not physically or sexually abused and appears to emerge from a stable household, often has a parent (usually the father) who has had anger issues to the point of needing anger management. Most of these people claim they once had anger issues but they “outgrew” them. What they probably mean is that they have their anger under control compared to their outbursts and violent acts as children but no one truly outgrows a hostile personality. It is difficult to describe what the effect of an angry child is like on others. This is not typical child’s sulking, selfishness, egocentric behaviour, or spatting with others. These children exhibit uncontrollable rage, completely unable to manage their reaction to what they see as irritants. The situations that enrage such children can seem very ordinary and mild to everyone else: one child I observed became verbally abusive and screamed furiously at two friends over a trade with Pokemon cards. This was typical behaviour for this boy.
An angry nature is supposedly the result of what is known as the triune brain, R-complex or reptilian brain., hypothesized by Dr. Paul D. Maclean. If you are a supporter of this hypothesis (and there is no proof that it exists), you accept the reptilian complex, also known as the R-complex, is situated in the basal ganglia, structures derived from the floor of the forebrain during development, and that it is responsible for instinctual behaviors involved in aggression, dominance, territoriality, and ritual displays. The reptilian is supposedly rigid and compulsive. MacLean hypothesized that in some humans who experience a lack of anger control, stimuli strikes the triune brain first and most prominently before a more rational area of the brain can react. This reaction over-rides rationality and an enraged reaction is the result. Certainly mothering cannot be blamed for the development of a reptilian structure in the human anatomy, and this theory supports the role of genetics and brain chemistry in children’s behaviour.
Enough of that scientific stuff. Back to the subject of blaming Mother for the sins of the child. At 13, Eric Smith murdered, tortured and sodomized 4-year-old Derek Robie in a woods near Eric’s home. Eric later claimed his actions were the result of constant bullying at school. A closer look at Eric’s home life suggested there was indeed more going on with this boy than the blame against his peers. Certainly bullying is a serious issue with schoolchildren. We have all read about the tragic suicides of teenagers who have been bullied literally to death. We’ve all been horrified by the lack of remorse on the part of the bullies, who seem to revel in their crime. Eric Smith’s father told him to accept the bullying as a part of life, a tragic mistake. Eric’s thick glasses, freckles, long red hair and protruding, elongated ears were the alleged reasons for the bullying. Of course here’s the kicker: the unusual ears were Mother’s fault. She took medicine for her epilepsy when she was pregnant and this caused the deformity. How selfish. How dare she have epilepsy? Perhaps Eric’s mother should have endured 9 months of epiletic seizures.
Eric has been diagnosed with intermittent explosive disorder, a condition in which a person cannot control inner rage. Intermittent means to occur on occasion, not on a regular basis. Explosive disorder is that where a person (usually a male) experiences extreme rage that is “disproportionate to the situation at hand.” In other words, the person with IED becomes enraged over minimal stimuli. Since this disorder is found mostly in males, it may very well have a genetic basis in Eric Smith. It is an impulse control disorder and is categorized in the DSM-IV-R In Eric’s case however, an examination of his home life is in order, except it wasn’t Mother who failed; it was in part Ted, his adoptive father. When Eric was little he often had temper tantrums where he banged his head on the floor. He was held back in school for one year. When he was older, an incident occurred where Eric clenched his fists, shook, and told his father he needed help with his anger. His father didn’t recognize the seriousness of Eric’s plea. Instead he told his son that when he himself was a boy and was angry, “I grabbed a bag in our barn and started beating on it until I was too tired to do anything else.” After this lame advice, Ted looked around and “heard a door shut and … Eric was gone.”This was the worst possible advice Ted Smith could have given his son. When Eric returned sometime later after murderering Derek Robie, he was much calmer and told his father he had “hit a tree a couple of times.” Placing blame on Ted Smith is inaccurate: Ted wasn’t perceptive and he was an unsupportive father, but that hardly makes him responsible for Eric’s murder of Derek Robie.
There is a disturbing pattern in the history of violent children:
- 1 in 5 have a low IQ
- divorce in the family
- at least one child in foster care
- a history of being bullied at school
Two of these traits have their origin within the family: divorce and the need for social services. Two others have no bearing on the family itself: low IQ and bullying at school. In that case, the community also contributes to the abhorrence of such children. Why aren’t these children being protected at school? If it takes a village to raise a child, does it take a village to destroy one? This in turn sometimes leads to a chain reaction where other children are destroyed; a sad, sick cycle that is never-ending, without a solution, without a happy ending to childhood during the transition into adulthood, the way children’s lives should.