Parents are to blame in new French drama
A new 'gallic noir' started last weekend on BBC4 and within minutes of the closing credits the social networks went into analytical overdrive.
The Disappearance (Disparue) is a French series, set in Lyons, about a teenage girl, Léa Morel, who goes missing on a birthday night out. The distraught mother Florence is played by Alix Poisson, who you might recognise from last year's big French hit The Returned (coincidentally also about a mother whose daughter goes missing but then returns - undead, like you do). In the opening scenes, Léa is seen getting excited about her 17th birthday celebrations which kick off the night before with a whole gang of friends going to a gig and then on to a city centre nightclub.
Her laid-back mum makes only one stipulation: "Be home by 3am and no later!"
Léa objects, then goes to see her dad at work and asks him what time she must be home. "No later than 4am!" he tells her. So off she goes and during the course of the night she separates from her friends and her fate is sealed.
The mother wakes up at 5am, sees her room is empty and becomes frantic. They can't understand it! Zut alors! Comment est-ce que s'est passé?!
By this stage I was shouting at the telly. "What the bloody hell do you expect when you're so nonchalant about your kid's whereabouts!!!"
Of course, in the drama the mother blames the brother, their friends and her husband for the dire situation. The dad blames the missing daughter, but no-one appears to blame the parents. And therein sparked the debate. Call me old-fashioned, but what kind of parents let a precocious-looking 16-year-old stay out until dawn in a city centre nightclub and then make their own way home afterwards?
The whole thing made me think back to my own teenage years. When I was that age in the late 1970s, I was allowed out to the local disco at the Parish Hall and that was about the height of my social life. There was no bar, just a tuck shop and DJ parishioner playing disco hits. My dad dropped me there at 7.30pm and picked me up at 10pm on the dot.
Naturally, I dreamed of being allowed more freedom. My friends Paula and Jackie were allowed to go on the bus on their own and they spent the 20-minute journey swigging Martini Rosso out of a Coke bottle (same colour, so it didn't raise suspicion) and so they arrived quite tipsy. In retrospect it seems very lame by modern standards, but to me, they were living the dream. But come 10pm their dads were waiting outside in the car like everybody else's.
With my own kids, though, I tried a different approach. I wanted them to learn the ropes about going out and to do it responsibly. So, before they turned adults I used to take them myself to all the cool events.
For example, when Luke was 15 there was a gig by a heavy metal band called Slayer at the Ulster Hall. At that time they were his favourite band, but the venue had a door policy that no-one under 18 was allowed without an accompanying adult.
So I took him and his three best friends (their parents only allowed them to go because I was there, although they probably thought I was a weirdo for suggesting it). I kept my eye on them, but from a reasonable distance to give them a hint of freedom. Now, the music wasn't to my taste, but it worked out brilliantly.
I officially became known as the coolest mum at school and until he turned 18 that was our routine. Then when Finn started to get interested in music himself I carried on the tradition. Iron Maiden, The Prodigy, Muse, Lamb of God, Trivium... we saw them all. I even dressed appropriately so I wouldn't stand out as an embarrassing mum.
Instead of it being a bone of contention, it was a bonding experience for us all. Now I don't expect you to try this at home; it was my own single-parent solution and also I'm still a teenager at heart. But I'd be interested to hear your opinions on this very emotive subject...