Are you to blame for your child’s mental health issues?

You could be forgiven for thinking that Oliver James has got it in for parents, even though he is one himself.  The eminent clinical psychologist, for many years a familiar face on our TV screens, has in the past gone public about the shortcomings of his own mum and dad, both psychoanalysts, in his best-selling book They F*** You Up.  

And he extended that reference to Philip Larkin’s pessimistic poem in a follow-up on child-care, 

Now comes the 63-year-old’s latest volume: Not In Your Genes. Its stark conclusion is that, whatever mental health issues youngsters may have, it’s mostly to parental maltreatment rather than any genetic inheritance.

And this, he says, can be unconscious.  As a parent, it is one of the most chilling books I have ever read.

James looks shocked when I tell him. “That’s the last thing of earth I intended,” he says. But there is an added sting in the tail of Not In Your Genes.  The crucial period for damaging your children, it suggests, is up to the age of three.  A case of damage done, then, as far as my teenagers are concerned?

“Pretty much,” he replies.  And for his too?  James has a daughter and son, Olive and Louis, 14 and 11, with his wife, the journalist Clare Garner.  “Yes, pretty much.’’

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