Well, that’s not exactly true; Howard hasn’t said that.
But it surely cannot be far behind his astounding comment yesterday that parents are to blame when their teenagers commit suicide. That would seem to be the underlying theme of his comments surrounding the tragedy of the two Melbourne teenagers who committed suicide and who had been posting odes to suicide on various websites.
Jodie Gater and Stephanie Gestier, both 16-year-old students at Melbourne’s Upwey High School, were missing for a week before their bodies were found on Sunday, hanging from a tree in the Dandenong Ranges National Park.
“I think the greatest thing that has to be said about this is that parental responsibility in the end is the key to behaviour by children,” Mr Howard told ABC Radio.
“Government can’t educate parents to be responsible if they don’t have an instinct for responsibility.
Sorry, but much as I would love to blame my parents for every single one of my failings and failures in life, there comes a point where self-responsibility has to take centre stage.
I wonder how many teenagers have not thought about suicide at some stage — the teenage years are tumultuous, tragic and painful for just about everyone in Western society. The requirement to sort out one’s own identity (see my article about identity formation and how the internet can help), the rush and swoosh of hormones through bodies far too mature and brains far too immature to cope, the pressure from the media to be ‘drop dead gorgeous’ and impossibly beautiful (there are innumerable examples on the internet of how magazine publishers ‘photoshop’ young girls into something/someone unreal — and you reckon Second Life is unreal?).
Society heaps so much pressure on us to believe that if we fail it is our fault. There is no acceptance by the ‘powers-that-be’ that the systemic forces they helped create and continue to promote and support are the cause of much of the unhappiness that engulfs us.
When I lived in England I became a huge fan of Dorothy Rowe, an Australian clinical and counselling psychologist who wrote books full of common sense and reason, and offered hope to the millions who felt that they were somehow ‘failures’.
One of Dorothy Rowe’s resources that she relies on for a dose of common sense is David Smail. As she says about him
“David Smail is my touchstone for truth and reason. He is psychology’s Voltaire“
Back in 1993 David published a small book which shook the halls of counselling psychology — The Origins of Unhappiness: A new understanding of personal distress. In the book David took psychology as a discipline, counselling as a sub-discipline and western society as a hegemonic entity to task for creating a ‘victim’ mentality amongst those who felt crushed by unhappiness and who felt it was somehow their own fault.
It is a powerful book and I urge you to track down a copy wherever you can — try your local library or your local university; you may find that your own periods of unhappiness and melancholia are not necessarily your own fault.
Now John Howard reinforces the same ‘Father knows best’ hegemony by turning the blame for individual youth unhappiness onto the poor parents. I know from bitter personal experience that no matter what you might personally wish for the youth in your care, you cannot command them to stay safe and out of harm’s way. Risk-taking, identity-swapping, role-playing behaviours are part and parcel of today’s youth, and to try and move societal pressure onto the shoulders of the beleaguered parents is shameful.
Shame on you, Howard.
Oh, and as a p.s. and a sure sign of how clueless and out of touch both sides of Government seemingly are, here’s Ms Burke:
Federal Labor MP Anna Burke (“a right Burke” as my London colleagues would chuckle) said the Howard government needed to urgently review classification guidelines for self-harm websites.
“Self-harm websites, including those pro-ana (pro-anorexia) websites that glamorise eating disorders, are dangerous to young people and highly addictive,” Ms Burke said.
“I have repeatedly called on the Howard government to reclassify these pro-ana websites on their grounds so that they are inaccessible to young people,” she said.
“It’s time for the Howard government to pull its head out of the sand and conduct an urgent review of the classification guidelines so that pro-ana and other self-harm websites are reclassified and filtered out.
Ms Burke said she wanted the self harm and pro-ana websites to be classified as X18+ or RC (Refused Classification), which would restrict young people from accessing them.
Does she seriously think that the internet, designed from the ground-up to be able to route around any obstacle and breakage, is going to roll over because some minuscule minister in an inconsequential country on tiny little blue-green planet in the uncharted backwaters of the unfashionable western spiral arm of the galaxy (and whose residents are so amazingly primitive that they believe digital watches are still a pretty cool idea) thinks that a simple ‘classication’ of a website is going to stop clever, raised-on-digital-technology teenagers from accessing it.
How DO you pronounce ‘clueless’?
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