Once again, Jamaicans are in a moral uproar about the behaviour of some youths. This time, the furore is over a two-year-old video of some high school kids dancing and gyrating. Nothing to see here, really. This happens EVERY DAY in Jamaica at some party or another, or a concert or in someone’s yard, by people of all ages. I think the proliferation of social media just blows these things up, out of proportion, and people react like fish to a shiny lure and then move on the to the next thing.
Prior to this, the Jamaica Observer published a few sensational articles about kids behaving badly in the HalfWay Tree Transport Centre “fights, sex, robberies“. Apparently, they touch one another, scream and frolic and generally do the things that teenagers across the world do.
For some reason, however, the media treats this with (or perhaps reflects) an attitude of shocked horror, as if these children are engaged in new and scandalous activities.
As someone who was a youth who started to head off in the wrong direction, and as someone who works with Jamaican youth, a few thoughts:
1. This is not new behaviour. Why are the media and citizens exhibiting such shocked reactions? Could it be that it is easy to blame the youth without looking at the root causes of the behaviour, if it is indeed problematic behaviour?
2. If it is problematic behaviour, where are the parents, community leaders and educators in all this? Why are these children allowed to roam free after school? If the Observer article is accurate, some of the behaviour is indeed troubling:
Linval Thompson, the man charged with managing the transport centre on behalf of the State-owned JUTC, said that the unruly behaviour of the teenage students have JUTC staff and the police personnel assigned to keep order in the centre stretched to the limit.
“On a Friday it is just madness,” Thompson told the Jamaica Observer. “The children come here and they do not leave the park until late in the evening. They are involved in all kinds of activities.”
His claim was corroborated by Sergeant April McFarlane, who heads the team of cops assigned to police the centre.
“On a Friday it’s chaos. The students don’t want to leave. They come to the bus park and linger. The girls arrange to meet men they met on the Internet. We have caught children having sex in the bathroom. They fight every day, but on a Friday it gets worse. We have found every form of weapon that you could imagine,” Sergeant McFarlane said.
So where are the adults in all this?
3. Instead of complaining and being shocked, why don’t people talk to these youths or create after-school programs for them?
4. From a journalistic perspective, I would also cast doubt on the stories being written about this subject. They focus on a small percentage of Jamaican youth. What about the vast majority of youth who go about their business, go to school, go home and do homework?
5. I have walked through HWT many times on a Friday afternoon and have never noticed this behaviour. I’m not saying it doesn’t happen but I have never felt threatened, at least by the high school students.
6. These students are modelling the behaviour they see around them, both in media and by adults behaving badly.
My point overall is that if there is indeed a problem of epidemic proportions, then responsible adults must look at the symptom. Blaming students for normal behaviour (I am not saying violence, robberies and underage sex is normal or acceptable, but if it is indeed occurring with regularity, then it must be addressed holistically rather than attacking those partaking in it) is not helpful and puts a wedge between generations.
For another measured perspective, read this column by youth advocate Jaevion Nelson.