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Children play in digital dancehall - No-holds-barred arena allows youngsters into adult world

Published:Sunday | September 22, 2013 | 12:00 AM

 Sadeke Brooks, Staff Reporter

Identification might be needed to enter a party, but with the openness of the Internet, children are often free to roam the space and access all types of content.

In many cases, parents tell their children that they can't attend dancehall events, however, online, there are very few ways to prevent a child from entering the dancehall space via websites that are littered with violent and sometimes sexually explicit material.

While Internet penetration is not particularly high in Jamaica, Marcia Forbes, author of STREAMING: Social Media, Mobile Lifestyles (2012) and Music, Media and Adolescent Sexuality in Jamaica (2010), says many children have phones through which they can access the Internet.

In fact, the Economic and Social Survey Jamaica 2012 (ESSJ) that was prepared by the Planning Institute of Jamaica states that "Growing Internet availability has facilitated increased access to, and use of, social networks. The number of Facebook accounts in Jamaica at the end of the year (2012) rose from 6,680 to 690, 400."

It continued, "Fixed broadband subscriptions rose from 2,096 to 119, 650, reflecting a penetration rate of 4.4 per cent. However, data for mobile broadband penetration is unavailable to date."

According to the ESSJ, the latest data (2011) says that only 27.9 per cent of households had computers, with two thirds having Internet connection.

Despite the seemingly low penetration, Forbes said children are accessing the Internet through various means and can access anything as many times as they want.

"It's not like TV, where you see it once and you don't know when you will see it again. With the new technologies, you have it there and you can watch it 50 million times. The types of absorption is of a different level," she told The Sunday Gleaner.

Forbes noted that the ways in which children interpret messages might be different from how adults interpret them. She also said many studies have shown "the correlation between dancehall and sexual ideas, beliefs and ideals."

While doing her study, Forbes said she did not set out to look at dancehall, however "dancehall regularly came up for outstanding mention".

As a registered nurse, who was also in charge of a paediatric ward, she said, "I understand quite a bit about child psychology. They are not ready to take in certain types of information before a certain age."

What is important, she said, is parental guidance.

But 16-year-old Jessica Brown(not real name) says she has the freedom to do what she wants online.

"They (parents) don't sit down and watch me," she said.

She said she currently owns a smartphone, tablet and a laptop. She said she has also been going online more frequently since she has got older. And while online, she says she frequents YouTube and Twitter, as she "doesn't really go on Facebook anymore".

Although she listens to various genres of music, Brown says she listens to a lot of dancehall.

"Sometimes, I listen to the raw version (of songs). Most of the songs, when they just come out it is the raw version. The clean version comes out after," she said.

Despite what she listens to and watches, Brown says she is not easily influenced.

"Everybody has a mind of their own. It doesn't influence me to do things that I am not supposed to. I think it mostly influences the boys," said Brown, who lives in the Kingston 20 area.

Despite the minimal influences that Brown claims the lewd and sometimes violent content has on her, the importance of parental supervision was stressed by Patrece Charles-Freeman, executive director of the National Parenting Support Commission.

"Parents need to be aware of 21st century parenting," she told The Sunday Gleaner.

She said parents need to be more vigilant in terms of the technology their children can easily access, as well as restrict the child's access to certain websites. She said the time a child spends online should also be limited, and some sort of structure should also be put in place so there are other things that the child can do.

"Parents need to open their eyes. We need to stop being naïve," she added.

"We are teaching parents about 21st century parenting so that they can understand what their children are doing. They need to learn to use the computer so that they can better monitor what their children are doing on the computers."

Dancehall artiste Delomar, who makes up half of the duo RDX, seems sold on 21st century parenting, saying he restricts his children's access to inappropriate content.

"We do adult music. Most of the songs that we do is not friendly for kids," said the singer, whose group is known for raunchy songs such as Daggerin, Kotch and Broad Out.

"The parents should come into play. I have my three-year-old daughter and nine-year-old son, but I put on a parental lock so they can't go some places online. I don't allow them to hear raw versions of my songs. Parents need to play a greater role."

While he has concerns, he said he cannot determine what children listen to and watch online.

"We also do kiddie-friendly songs, but I don't think we can control what kids listen to online because it is accessible to everybody," he told The Sunday Gleaner.

The Broadcasting Commission has been pivotal in the drive to restrict inappropriate content by putting in place the Children's Code for Programming that prevents stations from airing unsuitable material.

As a result, broadcast stations are required to evaluate and rate programming for violence, sex and language.

But there is an even bigger struggle for the Broadcasting Commission, as the landscape has changed with the increasing popularity of social networking websites (Facebook, Twitter, Instagram), blogs, forums, YouTube and other new media platforms.

Executive director of the Broadcasting Commission, Cordel Green, says despite the low penetration, there is still access to the Internet, and children need to learn how to conduct themselves in the space.

As such, about two years ago, he said the commission started a schools' outreach programme to educate children about the Internet. Between September 2012 and March 2013, he said the commission went to 23 schools in eight parishes and engaged over 5,000 students.

He said the children were shown ways in which the Internet can be beneficial to them and informed them about the need for user empowerment.

Green said the children were also told that the Internet is also constantly changing and "will test your values, your beliefs. It is borderless. You can go anywhere and everywhere. Whereas your parents will say you can't go to a session, chances are someone will go there and record it, and you can get it online whenever you want."

Hence, he said digital literacy and personal responsibility are important, as there are not always gatekeepers regulating the space as with traditional media (TV, radio, newspapers).

But Green says the Commission has limited powers.

"We have as much power as we get from Parliament through the legislation. The Broadcasting Commission is waiting on the Government to make the necessary changes that are appropriate for the times in which we are operating," he told The Sunday Gleaner.