Children's advocate says parents should know music kids are exposed to

Senior staff reporter

Saturday, February 22, 2020

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Jamaica's children's advocate Diahann Gordon Harrison has made it clear that her office has not declared war on any musical genre or icon.

Her comments, in an interview yesterday with the Jamaica Observer, comes in wake of the firestorm stirred by comments attributed to her earlier this year surrounding the findings of a study by her office showing the status held by incarcerated dancehall artiste Vybz Kartel among youth.

She is, however, adamant that parents should take responsibility for the media content their children are exposed to.

Gordon Harrison, who is Jamaica's national rapporteur on trafficking in persons, speaking at the 'Save Our Boys, Save Our Nation' prayer breakfast put on by the Caribbean Conference of Seventh-day Adventists in the Corporate Area in January, disclosed that the study conducted by her department among children who were either charged with or accused of committing criminal offences had revealed that Kartel was their “undisputed role model” and the “be-all and end-all of what (they) need to strive to be like”.

“Certainly as a parent, that's not the kind of music my children would be exposed to – not if I have anything to do with it,” the children's advocate said at the time.

But yesterday she said her statement then had been misconstrued.

“The Office of the Children's Advocate (OCA) is not at war with dancehall or with any musical genre; we have done collaborations and are open to it. The comments were made within the general context that parents, in general, must take responsibility for the types of things they expose their children to,” Gordon Harrison said.

“I spoke about a vast number of instances — it could be gang culture, it could be inappropriate shows on television, it could be inappropriate music — and I want to make it very clear that even if there is a particular individual who has inappropriate music it doesn't mean that same individual doesn't have other types of music that are sound and positive and not having inappropriate content,” she said further.

“The point was that whenever it comes on to anything that may not be appropriate for children of tender years, as parents we have to take that responsibility to determine what takes place. We recognise that people, especially our entertainers, have dexterity, wide range, so their competence is not just narrowed to one type of message. For those messages that are not appropriate we really need to consider what we expose them to,” she noted.

Said Gordon Harrison: “I want to make it very clear as well, the words 'Kick Kartel off pedestal' were never uttered in any context of my speech, so the use of those words were clearly an editorial decision; those were their words.”

Responding to comments by Jamaica Teachers' Association (JTA) President Owen Speid that her office had sent the wrong message in its recent call for Pembroke Hall High School teacher Marsha Lee Crawford — who was late last year captured on video threatening a student with violence — to apologise to the child, the children's advocate said Speid's assertions needed “to be examined”.

According to Speid, the OCA's calling on the teacher to apologise had endorsed student indiscipline and is responsible for the supposed increase in student-teacher altercations since.

“The JTA is very much concerned. We are listening and we are looking, and we are not pleased that the Office of the Children's Advocate, for example, sending the wrong signal that teachers should apologise to students who are disruptive in the first place and cause other reactions to come, and then you only hear that the teachers should apologise to the students. So that is sending that message, and there's a ripple effect — we're seeing it; we've seen it. Since that comment we're seeing it,” Speid insisted, while speaking with Top of the Morning host Richie B on The Edge 105 FM on Thursday.

“We have never held the position that teachers ought to be going around apologising to children. That has never been our position. Mr Speid seems to have been talking about what is a specific investigation that we did concerning the Pembroke Hall High matter and, in that one specific, narrow case, we indicated that, based on the circumstances, we thought that this was something that was being reasonably asked for and we wanted to put it forward as something they should do to bring the matter to an end,” she told the Observer.

“The boy who was at the centre of it indicated to his parents that he wasn't interested in pushing for the teacher to lose her job or anything like that, but all that he wanted was an apology because of how public it was and how embarrassed he was by the entire situation, and we thought that, in all the circumstances, having assisted with getting a school transfer for him that that would bring sufficient closure to the matter,” the children's advocate explained.

“So it's not a general position, and I want to state very clearly that, as far as we are concerned, we deal with fairness on all sides, and so if children are wrong, and if they are doing things that disrespect authority and hurt teachers and deans of discipline and guidance counsellors, and if they are enabled by their parents, we stand ready to be part of the solution to deal with meaningful ways to address how these matters ought to be dealt with, because even though children have rights, with every single right comes a responsibility,” she continued.

“I can't speak for the head of the JTA, but I can speak for myself and certainly as children's advocate I can say categorically that the teachers who slave every day, sometimes in conditions that are far less suitable than we would want them to be in to inculcate not only discipline but knowledge and socially acceptable behaviour in our children, have the utmost respect from me personally and also from the Office of the Children's Advocate,” she said.

Just this week, principal of Homestead Primary School Sophia Deer was reportedly hurt during a confrontation with a pupil, followed by reports that the dean of discipline at Oracabessa High School in St Mary was attacked by a male student he had reprimanded. In January classes at Cornwall College in Montego Bay, St James, ground to a halt after a face-off between a parent and the dean of discipline on the school grounds.

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