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Digital generation: How moms deal with chronically online kids

by Joanna Deala AND Gaby Agbulos

IN 2019, TotallyAwesome, a children’s digital media company, started seeing a pattern of longer hours of the usage of Internet-enabled devices in kids in the Philippines. 

Specifically, they noted that children often spend around 82 hours on the Internet each month, usually through smartphones, tablets, or television. They also found that of these children, 55% own a smartphone, and 47% own a tablet. 

They also found that the majority of these children now preferred the Internet over television.

“We have seen children in the Philippines being very vocal and fanatical about content that they see online,” shared Quan Nguyen, chief executive officer of TotallyAwesome, adding that the study revealed the power children now must get the things they want given their access to the Internet.

Given the popularity of the Internet and with classes shifting to a blended learning setup that requires the use of gadgets, it has become almost inevitable for children to have Internet access, so much so that they stop going outside to play, and interactions are often limited to making friends on Minecraft or Roblox. 

The question that stands now is: how are moms dealing with this? How do they ensure that their chronically online kiddos are still making the best of their childhood outside the digital realm? 

Dealing with the problem

[From Left to Right] Sofia Lorraine Veliath and Mhonique Veliath

Mhonique Veliath is mom to eight-year-old Sofia Lorraine. When Sofia was younger, she was diagnosed with speech delay and an ear problem. Mhonique suspected that one of the causes of her daughter’s speech delay was her frequent use of gadgets that led her to socialize less. 

“Iba [rin] ang tantrums ng bata since nag-start ng gadget, plus parang nasa sarili silang mundo,” she shared.

This prompted the millennial mother to limit her daughter’s screen time and to enroll her in interactive playschool like a kiddie crew workshop and a mini managers camp in local fast-food chains. 

Sofia also underwent speech therapy to improve her communication and language skills.

“Sinali ko siya sa mga playschool para maiwas sa gadget plus ma-expose sa mga ibang bata, may makausap,” Mhonique told republicasia.

 “Laking help nun dahil ‘di ko naranasan yung iyakan portion nung nag-start na siya mag-kinder. Naiiwan [siya] nang ‘di umiiyak,” she added.

Meanwhile, Marvi Agbulos Antonino, a mother of two, noticed a few changes in the behavior of her five-year-old daughter, Aya, since she started using an iPad. These include a change in her words, a shorter attention span, and a lessened capacity for learning.

This pushed Marvi to limit Aya’s screen time from two hours to 30 minutes per day.

Balancing screen time

Technology undeniably became an essential part of our daily lives, and children were no exception, particularly those attending school.

Mhonique said she allows Sofia to have access to her electronic gadgets, but only if it is related to her schoolwork. 

“If hindi need mag-gadget, edi no; bibigyan ko [nalang] siya [ng] ibang activities,” she said.

“Important [na] ma-guide pa rin sila sa mga pinapanood o nakikita nila online–yung mga words na naririnig nila, and limitations din sa paggamit ng gadget,” she continued.

 Marvi shared the same sentiments. As part of her parenting techniques, she tries to keep a healthy balance of allowing her children to be their best selves all while keeping them safe–discipline while still being their friend.  

With Aya using an iPad for school and for playing, Marvi explained that kids using gadgets like phones or tablets was something that had become inescapable and even integral given the new normal.

Digital parenting

Photo courtesy: Pexels

Technology has also changed the way we live and work, and so has the way parents raise their children. This is where digital parenting comes into the picture.

In digital parenting, Dr. Sheila Marie “Shake” Hocson, a psychologist and a mom, emphasized the need for parents to comprehend, support, and regulate their children’s activities in today’s digital world.

“Ang platform kasi ng kabataan ngayon is really digital, so we have really know how to comprehend our dear children, we also have to really support their interest in technology, and of course, very important din, to regulate din on the use of it,” Dr. Shake told republicasia.

Digital parenting also helps parents, who have been away from their children due to work, to maintain their communication and bond with their loved ones, said the psychologist.

Pros and cons

Photo courtesy: Pexels

Incorporating technology into parenting has advantages and disadvantages on the relationship between parents and their kids. 

One of the benefits of using technology is that it could help children in their studies and be socially aware. But this could also have adverse effects on them such as addiction and absorption of negative emotions from the online world.

While the online community could give people entertainment, Dr. Shake said that it could also expose users to negative emotions like self-harm, hate campaigns, and misinformation. She added that it could also influence their minds, emotions, behavior, and character.

“Pwede siyang [technology] makatulong, pwede siyang hindi. Pwede siyang makatulong sa language—‘di ba kung makikita mo karamihan ng mga kabataan ngayon English speaking. It has definitely affected their comprehension [and] sociability,” the expert said.

“But of course, may negative effect din ‘yan. Aside from sinasabi ng CHED [Commission on Higher Education] and DepEd [Department of Education] that that really provided us learning continuity plan, it also created emotional distress. Kaya kung makikita niyo, pagbalik ng school after three years ng kabataan because of the pandemic, ang daming nagkaroon ng mental health problems like irritability, lack of patience, mga bizarre posting.”

For Dr. Shake, digital parenting is a two-way process. Considered “digital natives,” young generations–including Generation Z–also teach their parents how to become tech-savvy.

“Hindi naman laging yung magulang niyo nagsu-support kasi sa makabagong mundo ngayon ng kabataan, the digital natives, kung makikita niyo mas tech-savvy sila sa kanilang mga magulang. Because of that, natuturuan din nila yung magulang nila,” the psychologist said.

Dr. Shake said it is vital to use technology in today’s modern world to keep their connection and relationship with their kids, but she emphasized the need to regulate it.

Recommended screen time

Photo courtesy: Pexels

The recommended screen time for each individual depends on their age. Below are the guidelines provided by the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry in 2022:

  • 0 to 18 months: None, except a video chat with an adult.
  • 18 to 24 months: Less than an hour but they are only recommended to co-watch educational programs with a caregiver.
  • Two to five years old: Children in this age range should only use gadgets for an hour or less each weekday to three hours each weekend.
  • Six to 17 years old: Kids and teens in the age range should only aim for two hours or less of screen time per weekday. They still must make time for other important activities like physical activity and sleep.
  • 18 years old and above: Even adults should also limit their screen time to two to four hours every weekday. They are advised to have a screen break by doing other physical activities.

Dr. Shake suggested parents allot their weekends for family bonding activities such as sports, physician exercise, or church activities since Filipinos are known to be religious.

She also pointed out the importance of providing a play plan for children. This includes engaging them in various sports activities like basketball and swimming.

“A play plan is definitely one of the things para gumalaw yung mga bata, expose them to their sports, expose them to their interests para maiwasan [yung paggamit ng gadgets],” said the psychologist.

Dr. Shake also recommended creating a family media plan for each member of their family through the American Academy of Pediatrics’ (AAP) website. They just have to fill in the needed information on the website, and it will recommend alternative activities to using electronic devices.

Photo courtesy: Screenshot from AAP’s website

Limitations on gadget use

Mhonique shared that she set limitations on Sofia’s gadget use. One of them is that she’s not allowed to reply to anyone on Facebook Messenger, aside from her dad who is based abroad.

“Bawal siya mag-watch ng mga ‘di magagandang video. Minsan nakikinig ako, [and] if I hear something na ayoko, pinapa-stop ko ‘yun. Nagde-delete din ako ng history and nagba-block ng mga channel na ‘di maganda napapanood,” she stressed.

Mhonique also helped Sofia by making quizzes relating to her school lessons and buying her DIY [Do-It-Yourself] activities since her daughter loves to draw and paint. 

Marvi, on the other hand, said she only allows her child to use child-friendly learning games and watch media that are appropriate for her age. She also tried to balance Aya’s screen time by engaging with her during playtime, reading time and meal time.

Entering into a “firm agreement” with their children could also be helpful to the parents, according to the psychologist.

“If there is a big problem, there is a big consequence. If there is a small problem, there is a small consequence. But you have to explain it like for example, bumaba yung grades niya sa Math or Filipino, syempre yung screen time niya mababawasan din. It’s part of your agreement,” Dr. Shake noted.

The parents could also give rewards if they see improvements in their kids, but Dr. Shake does not recommend rewarding their children with gadgets.

While Mhonique and Marvi had regrets about giving their children access to electronic devices, they recognize that they are living in a modern world where technology dominates. However, the two parents argued that they still wouldn’t allow their kids to be consumed by it.

Mhonique stressed, “Limit lang talaga. You can’t stop them naman dahil na-e-expose na talaga sila sa technology. Need mo lang na ma-guide sila ng maayos and limit [their gadget use].

“Spend more time with them, talk to them, play with them. ‘Wag mo gawing yaya yung gadget.”

As technology rapidly grows, it won’t be surprising anymore if we would see more advanced versions of it in the coming years. However, we should not forget that we have real lives outside the online world.



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