Compared with the experience of my generation, it’s got to be really tough growing up in Barbados today. That’s not to suggest youth was a bed of roses. Far from it!
We too had our share of challenges and distractions, but they certainly were not on the scale or of the type which children and adolescents are grappling with today.
In the 1960s/1970s Barbados when we grew up, illegal drugs were neither widely nor readily available. In the odd case where you heard of a boy doing drugs, it was marijuana 99.9 per cent of the time. Cocaine use then was associated with dentistry, specifically as a local anaesthetic.
Gun violence was confined to the television or cinema screen. Firearms were generally out of reach of the average boy or girl, and so too was hard-core pornography.
These contemporary issues are the result of sweeping social, economic and technological changes which have occurred on a global scale and gradually surfaced here in the last 25 to 30 years. Heavily exposed as Barbados has always been to foreign influences, especially now via 24-hour cable television and the Internet which were not around in our youth, these changes have fundamentally altered the terrain where the average person journeys from childhood to adulthood.
Increased global travel, involving Barbadians going abroad and visitors coming here, is another major contributing factor. With all the attendant pressures which these issues place on impressionable young minds, children and adolescents today are more deserving of compassion instead of condemnation which too many adults displaying a holier-than-thou attitude regrettably rush to do.
But can adults honestly say they were better than today’s young people when they were growing up? Probably to some extent, but the question is very much debatable. For sure, many grown-ups back then thought some of us were the children of Satan destined for the consuming fires of Hell. Every generation throughout history has viewed the one coming after as worse than they were.
In the fullness of time, therefore, we can expect today’s young people to say pretty much the same about those who will come after them. It happens because of an inter-generational shift in attitude and perspective which, if not skilfully managed, can sometimes cause unpleasant friction in a relationship which ideally should be based on mutual respect. In our youth, this phenomenon was referred to as the “generation gap”, a term you hardly hear nowadays.
The holier-than-thou attitude displayed by some adults, many of whom should know better, is contributing to unnecessary tension and hostility between young people and adults today. Youth is a stage of life where people are usually rash in making judgements and coming to conclusions about things. However, maturity which comes with advancing age suggests being pragmatic and open-minded as a much better approach.
How many adults, if they faced the same challenging circumstances of young people, can genuinely say that they would not have done some of the same things if the opportunities had existed when they were growing up? I am convinced, for example, that if cellular phones were around in our youth, adults back then would have been equally flabbergasted by some of the same explicit videos that make the rounds today showing schoolchildren having sex.
We may not have been so open, as young people are today, but our generation certainly was not innocent. My Foundation School contemporaries, for example, knew of nearby “Panty Lane”, the pleasurable activities that occurred there after school hours, and even in some cases who were involved. The Polaroid camera, which for the first time allowed photos to be developed immediately on the spot, was the cellphone of our generation. After this technology became available, explicit photos occasionally went into circulation after falling into the wrong hands.
When you think about it, there’s really nothing new under the sun.
The seemingly crazy things which young people do can be easily explained. Young people in general, but the more adventurous in particular, are naturally inclined to take risks, once the right opportunity presents itself, because of a misplaced sense of invincibility and a feeling that they are smarter than adults.
While they may get away some of the time, it so happens that they get caught most of the time. Experience gives adults the winning edge.
What made the difference for our generation when we walked the slippery paths of youth was a generally good upbringing thast enabled us to distinguish right from wrong. Unfortunately, many children and teenagers today are not benefiting from the same socialization because of several factors –– breakdown of the traditional extended family, disintegration of community life as a result of the rise of individualism, and the declining influence of once key institutions such as the church as a result of secularization.
Traditional Barbadian socialization, which began within the family and extended to the wider community, instilled in children a value system on which there was broad social agreement. With a firm belief in the biblical principle that if you “bring up a child in the way he should go, he will not depart from it when he is old”, parents, grandparents, great-grandparents, uncles, aunts –– all part of the extended family back then –– drummed into the heads of children a set of core values. For example, “manners maketh man”.
Values were also passed on through well-known Barbadian folkloric sayings emphasizing discipline, pride in one’s self, hard work, love of God and neighbour, and living within one’s means, among other things. These sayings contributed not only to the moulding of strong character, but a distinct identity that caused Barbadians to stand out in the Caribbean and the wider world.
Unlike today, when young people are exposed to so many conflicting messages and double standards from adults, which only adds to their confusion, society back then was ad idem on these values which were reinforced in the school, the church and wider community. Raising a child is like programming a computer. What comes out, in terms of behaviour, is what adults put in.
Instead of constantly condemning young people, the majority of whom are doing positive things, it is time for some adults to own up to the fact that the deviance displayed by a small minority, stems from society’s failure in so many ways to provide them with effective guidance. Television, with all of its harmful effects on children unless they are exposed to media literacy training, has become a modern parent. The real parents often are too caught up in the rat race.
“Children learn what they live,” the well-known Dorothy Law Nolte poem reminds us. Child Month, which begins tomorrow, presents a timely opportunity for parents and adults to reflect and resolve to provide better care, attention and guidance to the children of today who will be the men and women of tomorrow.
(Reudon Eversley is a political strategist, strategic communication specialist, and journalist. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org)