Teenagers and the real world

| 06/06/2008

By Nicky Watson – Posted Tuesday, 3 June

Back in the 1950s, the people of the Cayman Islands could have chosen,
Amish style, to reject the encroaching modern world and the more
comfortable life it brings and to stick with their donkeys and wompers
and mosquitoes. Of course, no one could possibly have known the
devil’s pact they were making or envisioned what the world would be
like 50 years later, but here it is and no amount of hand wringing can
change that.

When Cayman let in the world – and its people – they also let in other
cultures and invariably, as successive generations are removed from
the old Caymanian ways, young people will embrace global youth
cultures. The current round of clucking over a video posted on YouTube
(which has now been taken down) of young people showing off the
simulated sex of the dancehall culture was a glimpse into their world.
Like the parents of Elvis Presley fans, we are shocked by the raw
sexuality of it – could that be the point? – but it’s unlikely to
change until the next youth culture comes along to replace it.

Our task, then, is to help our young people deal with the real world
they face, not the world we would like them to live in. The teenage
years can be extremely difficult, but today’s young people face
additional challenges – a whole range of drugs we never heard of,
including date rape drugs, as well as the specter of AIDS, which
doesn’t seem to be going away anytime soon.

For most of us, the dancehall and rap cultures are deeply disturbing,
with its misogyny, homophobia and promiscuity. But wait a minute.
Doesn’t that sound familiar? In many churches, young people learn that
women must subjugate themselves to men – the wrong lesson if we
want young women to take control over their lives and their
sexuality. And the homophobia that poured into the letters pages and
out of the airwaves from our god-fearing folk after the “gay kiss”
lays the foundation for violence against gays, which has reached
such a degree in Jamaica that homosexuals now seek asylum in other countries.

Even if we pretend that previous generations of Caymanians were
entirely chaste until marriage and faithful after that, the reality is
that a proportion of teenagers are sexually active, though we don’t
know how many because no one is keeping tabs. We don’t have a true
figure for teenage pregnancy or the rate of sexually transmitted
diseases in teens, something that should be addressed so that youth
policy is based on reality and not on wishful thinking (abstinence-
only sex education, for example).

Cayman must deal openly with problems of abuse, including the
pervasive practice of adult men having sexual intercourse with
underage girls (16 is the legal age of consent for sexual relations
including oral sex). In this week’s Special Report An education in sexual health, Women’s Resource
Centre Director Tammy Ebanks-Bishop  revealed that young women
are ‘groomed’ and exploited by their own family members in order
to reap economic gain from older men, an issue far more shocking and
pernicious than the antics of young people in Cayman’s dance halls.
And let’s not forget the dangers of ’grooming’ via email, a global
problem that the Cayman Islands is certainly not immune from.

When the Department of Education Services introduces sex education
into the curriculum in September, there will inevitably be resistance
by those who quite wrongly believe that increasing young people’s
knowledge will encourage them to have sex. But it is imperative that
such misguided (and often hypocritical) notions are not allowed to
endanger our children.

This is a precarious world for young people and they need all the help
they can get.


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