Fri | Dec 2, 2022

Alfred Dawes | A generation of vipers

Published:Sunday | October 2, 2022 | 12:52 AM

I often overheard the expression growing up, when adults were discussing the horrific acts of indiscipline carried out by my generation. Talking back, or being disobedient to an adult, was enough to earn the moniker. Indeed, we were worse than they...

I often overheard the expression growing up, when adults were discussing the horrific acts of indiscipline carried out by my generation. Talking back, or being disobedient to an adult, was enough to earn the moniker. Indeed, we were worse than they were growing up. We never had a village raising us, nor did we fear any random adult disciplining us on the roads, then having to hide it when we got home lest we get another beating. Our parents were more liberal with our upbringing. “Spare the rod and spoil the child” was still very relevant to our behinds, but the village’s role in moulding a child was far less important than when they were growing up.

The tales in Charles Hyatt’s When Me Was A Boy described a Jamaica that was far different from what I saw as a boy. It was the old folk from that era who often admonished my generation of vipers for our sins. It would be interesting to hear what they would think of the current generation growing up, because even with my frame of reference, they are far more suitable than we were for that serpentine designation. The children have changed. The shocking murder of a female student by another over what appears to be gossip is heartrending. Reports of gangs recruiting schoolboys, videos of students taunting and harassing teachers, and at least one teacher losing it and getting into fisticuffs with a student, have painted a gloomy picture of the future.

The usual themes of Jamaican music, upliftment, revolution, or even dancing and getting jiggy, have been replaced by odes to scamming, killing, guns and Molly. Were I growing up now, instead of hiding and listening to Yellowman, I would have unlimited access to nastier, more violent songs that would make him sound like a Psalmist. The desensitisation of our youth to violence and gore is completed with the sharing of macabre crash and murder videos with twisted bodies sprawled across phone screens. A constant stream of readily accessible pornography gives them unrealistic expectations of how women ought to be treated during sexual intercourse. Overconsumption of porn raises their threshold for sexual pleasure without them even realising their plastic brains are being moulded in a perverse way.

POLARISING CONTENT

Social media algorithms feed their (and our) timelines with polarising content that reinforce their beliefs based on what they’ve consumed before. View liberal content, you get inundated with liberal leaning video evidence. Binary, all or nothing, for me or against me, thinking is the consequence. The children pick a side before they are exposed to contrasting schools of thought for deliberation. Time spent on screens have replaced normal human-to-human interaction and their peers are no longer neighbours and schoolmates, they are clout-chasing influencers who sacrifice decency and dignity for likes and shares.

And then there is the contribution of our society. How does our Jamaican society treat the father who is hustling in a low-paying job? The one who works so hard just to put food on the table. We show him no respect. We treat him like an insignificant nobody. Why then should his son look up to him and want to emulate him? Why should his daughter want a man like him who is constantly under financial duress? We have made money and prosperity the epitome of self-actualisation, not decent, hard work and honesty. Who then will the boy want to be like, if it is not the anti-father who has money, irrespective of how he acquired it? The girl is taught to find a man who can take care of her and so she seeks out the anti-father for a transactional relationship and eventually, a broken home. If our elders thought that the end of the era of the village raising a child was bad, what will this era bring, now that my generation of vipers is raising children under the conditions described.

WORRISOME

What is even more worrisome is the fact that a significant number of Jamaican children have a high Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACE) score. The ACE score tallies different types of abuse, neglect and household dysfunction. The higher the ACE score, the greater the likelihood the child will have behavioural problems, educational difficulties, unstable relationships, drug abuse, depression, a tendency towards violence and serious health issues in adulthood. According to studies, a rougher childhood leads to toxic stress from ACEs and negatively affects brain development, the immune system, decision-making and learning. Nowhere is this seen more than in the inner-city communities that are major crime and violence producers. The next generation of adults is being shaped by parents with high ACE scores and in high ACE homes.

“The child is father of the man”. The ACEs, music, social media content, who society chooses to be their role models, and our wilful blindness to their plight, is destroying our children’s future. Our society will get worse as they come of age under these conditions plus the lack of equitable opportunities afforded by our corrupt, tribal society. No crime plan to create a long-term solution can work if we do not address the multitude of factors affecting our youth. Lip service to early childhood education is not enough. We must examine the contribution of all the contributing factors why we are in our current predicament. We cannot wait for the next murder or viral video of a child we label a viper to spur us into action into being better snake charmers.

- Dr Alfred Dawes is a fellow of the American College of Surgeons, and CEO of Windsor Wellness Centre. Follow him on Twitter @dr_aldawes. Send feedback to columns@gleanerjm.com and adawes@ilapmedical.com.