Too often in an attempt to remain politically correct or not to ruffle the feathers of interest groups, we are averse to asserting our opinions on certain social behaviour and moral conduct. This has frequently been interpreted as tacit acceptance, even when deep within our psyche we rage at various new-age behavioural constructs.
Sociologists, psychologists and other lettered individuals of all descriptions in Barbados, have pointed to dysfunctional families as one of the reasons for increased crime levels, unwanted teen pregnancies, sexually transmitted diseases and several other instances of problematic or deviant behaviour. Of course, the reality is that all of these negatives can also occur in a seemingly perfectly functioning family, complete with Sunday school, family dinners, bedtime stories and the proverbial white picket fence.
Still, there are certain ideals that have served the Barbadian family well in the past. But today we are too quick to scoff at them, as we try to embrace an all-inclusive form of social and moral behaviour that is underpinned by nothing stronger than an adult’s right to do as he or she pleases as long as it does not infringe directly on the rights of others. And in the case of our children, the latitude that we give them continues to increase as we sacrifice them on the altar of modernity. More to the point, we slavishly follow the lead of countries whose value systems not only leave a lot to be desired, but whose validity seems to be based strictly on the strength of their gross domestic product.
We in Barbados once accepted that the traditional family meant mother, father and child/children. Now that ideal is being redefined along ‘genderless’ lines where the family structure of wife, wife and child or husband, husband and child are being held up as an equal norm. In modern society’s attempt to be ‘fair’ or to be embracing of consenting adults, are we paying sufficient focus on the early messages and value systems to which we willingly expose our children?
On a recent radio programme local consultant sociologist and director of Proteqt Inc. Dr Veronica Evelyn expressed concern that many Barbadians had seemingly gone the path of embracing dysfunction within the family structure. She noted that ideals related to the nuclear family, gender and sexuality were being redefined and accepted. She voiced worries on how this could affect children and their development.
But it goes beyond this. With many parents of an age not far from their children, several of those “little things” that served this society well have fallen by the wayside. It is not an uncommon sight to see 14, 15 and 16-year olds at fetes, on cruises, or at other places of entertainment without their parents, guardians or a chaperone. It is not an uncommon sight to see children in school uniform idling on our streets or in bus terminals sometimes three or four hours after they have been dismissed from school. And often this occurs without sanction.
In today’s Barbados principals and teachers sometimes discipline their charges at their own risk. Frequently, they do not face threat from the children themselves but from misguided parents and a civil society whose cue is often not influenced by their indigenous experiences, but by larger western countries whose decadence has long taken firm root.
Sometime ago the Barbados Family Planning Association (BFPA) Executive Director Juliette Bynoe-Sutherland found issue with the fact that 16-year-olds could be legally sexually active, but could not access treatment for sexually transmitted infections or seek to prevent unplanned pregnancies without their parents’ involvement under the age of 18.
Earlier UNICEF Children’s Champion Faith Marshall-Harris revealed that a proposal would be made to Government to enact legislation giving children ages 16 and 17 the right to access medical help without parental consent.
While we appreciate and understand the rationale behind the sentiments of both ladies, we believe they have both missed the school bus on this issue.
If the age of sexual consent was 18 and ‘children’ could only access these services without their parents at age 20, what would be the recourse of action? Do we keep tinkering with legislation as it relates to age limits? The age limit – and there is usually one for most things under the sun – is not the primary issue. The focus should be on instilling values in our children and highlighting to them the dangers within the pleasures of early, uninformed sexual activity, whether 16, 17, 18 or 20.
Additionally, isn’t it a further assault on the family structure and a diminution of parental control, when children believe they can “deal” with their sexual missteps without reference to the parents with whom they share a home and who remain responsible for their daily livelihood?
Bynoe-Sutherland reiterated that the BFPA would continue to lobby on behalf of sexually active 16 and 17-years-olds to ensure that they had access to information and treatment. And we support this. But parents cannot and should not be left out of the process.
We believe that greater involvement by parents in the lives of their children is required; not less. We believe that less acculturation of ideals foreign to Barbados is required; not more. We believe that values that served us well in the past should be embraced; not discarded.