In case you haven't noticed, technology is upon all of us. It's at our workplace, in the hospital, when we go out to shop, and even when we're just home binge-watching on a weekend. Parents are no strangers to technology, either: we depend heavily on our gadgets to accomplish simple tasks such as caculating the household budget, keeping tabs with our kids' schedules, finding recipes online, sharing photos with friends, and catching up with family members abroad via video call. It's been said too many times that one almost feels disabled without his or her mobile phone, and that's understandable. Times are changing, and since technology is on hand, why not use it?
But what happens when our kids enter the picture, when it's their turn to explore the world wide web? It's a known fact that for all the amazing things one can do with the internet, there's also a dark side to it that can be used to prey on people, and often, it's the kids who are most vulnerable. It's a spine-tingling possibility that could rival any thriller on Netflix. So what's a mom to do?
We spoke with actress Bettina Carlos, culinary enthusiast, online content producer and host, single mom to 7-year-old Amanda Lucia, or Gummy, and one of the ambassadors of PLDT Home, on the safeguards she uses to prevent such scenarios.
Smart Parenting (SP): At what age did you give Gummy her first mobile phone?
Bettina: When she was five, I decided to give her a regular celphone (not touch-screen), only because I wanted her to be able to call me when she misses me while I'm at work. During that time I was taping 3 to 4 times a week. When she was 6, her great grandmother bought her a touch-screen phone, and we use it primarily for video calling. She also sends me photos of her artworks.
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SP: What are the challenges of being a mom in this digital world?
Bettina: The primary concern is the usage. It's a reality that they will really need to use a screen gadget someday. In fact, in school, they are already transitioning to that: they are given their homework and everything is coursed through it. I'm not the type of parent who will completely withhold it from her because I know she will need it someday.
The way to teach someone to regulate something is to put that on someone and teach her how to use it, not to take it away and say, bawal yan, hindi dapat ganyan.
Now that she has her gadgets and she has access to the internet, it's all about teaching her and making her understand why I have rules, why I set limits, why it only has to be an hour a day, why only on weekends, why not before she's going to sleep. I think it's all about teaching your child intentionally so that they will understand why instead of you just setting rules, do's and dont's.
And of course, content is another big concern. One challenge is telling her which are allowable and which are not. Kids these days like watching funny stuff, and I have to tell her that not everything that's funny is okay. Not everything that makes you laugh is good.
SP: What are your rules at home when it comes to gadget usage?
Bettina: First, she knows she's not allowed any screen time when there's class the next day, so that's Mondays to Thursdays. Friday after school we get to watch, iflix, Youtube videos. Second, she's given a total of 1 to 2 hours screen time only per day. So kung nag-movie, consumed na yon. She has astigmatism, so we need to take care of her eyes. I also tell her that it affects her brain, it wakes it up when we watch towards the nighttime. Thirdly, she's allowed to watch using my laptop, but it has to be here at the common area—never alone in the room without an adult. And it has to be audible, it has to be loud enough, so that even if I'm doing something in the kitchen, I can hear what she's watching. Hindi pwedeng naka-headphones. And lastly, I teach her that when you're with someone, especially when we are out, and we're in the car caught in traffic, you interact. No watching on the phone. I teach her that when you're with someone, you use the time to talk.
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SP: Does she always obey?
Bettina: She understands that we have rules, and they are for her own good, so she has to obey. She knows that when she obeys, good things happen. She gets rewarded. God is happy. When she disobeys, she gets hurt, almost always. Kunyari sinabi ko, don't run, tapos tumakbo, nadapa. I try not to go, 'I told you so,' but I just remind her that when she disobeys, she gets hurt. So I'm very clear that the rules that I give are not because mommy is killjoy. It takes an open communication between you and your child so your child would understand.
For your rules to be effective, for your child to really obey and honor it with her heart, you have to have that relationship with your child. You can't have all rules with no relationship.
SP: What happens when she tries to get more screen time?
Bettina: Everytime there's disobedience, she knows she will be disciplined. And you know kids, they're very manipulative. Sometimes dadaanin ka sa lambing, pa-puppy eyes, or tatakbo sa lola. When that happens, I just tell her, how do you obey? She knows the answer: All the way, right away, with a happy heart. And I only have two rules, basically: you get disciplined when you disobey, and when you disrespect. So when you don't obey right away, that's disobedience already.
I also don't believe dun sa binibilangan yung bata—that's training them to disobey, because they will think, 'Ay may three chances ako bago ako ma-strikeout!' It shouldn't be that way. Your child has to know that when the mom or dad gives them something to do, they should obey right away.
I think the challenge in being a parent to 0-7 years old is sticking to the rules. As a parent, titiisin mo yung iyak ng anak mo kasi you know if you don't discipline them, it will hurt them. You have to explain to them that it hurts you more, but this is really what you have to do because this is your this is your God-given role. That you discipline her because you love her. Ask Gummy, Why does Mommy discipline you? She will answer, Because Mommy doesn't want me to go to hell. Ultimately, that's the direction she's headed at if I don't correct her now. So as a parent of a 0-7 year old, you just have to ask yourself: Kelan ba sasakit yung ulo ko, ngayon na paulit-ulit ako, o bukas na hindi na susunod ang anak ko?
SP: What kind of parenting style do you employ?
Bettina: I'm a very realistic parent. My child is growing up, so my parenting style evolves also as she gets older. I'd also like to think that I'm a heart parent—I check her heart almost all the time kasi it's the heart that causes the behavior. Why did the behavior manifest? You have to check her heart. So I don't react right away, I let time pass. I ask her what happened. I dig so that I will understand.
I check my heart also. Some parents tend to react and discipline because they were offended, or nagulo yung schedule nila, and their reaction is to get mad, or to react negatively. I try to not be that way, as in it's a conscious effort, because I don't want my child to be confused na, 'Kala ko ba there's no room for anger?' 'Kala ko ba anger is not a good thing? How come when I don't do something correctly, my mom gets mad right away?' So yeah, I check both our hearts to see where we are, why we do things.
Bettina: Gummy likes watching D-I-Y videos, so that's her main source of what kind of art to do. She tells me, Mommy let's make slime. So we Google how to make slime, we do art, we do D-I-Y squishy, we do a lot of art stuff. And the source of that is the internet. I think it's a very realistic approach—we have it, so why not use it? It's just really a matter of regulating it.
Recently, we also got interested in planting in our small garden. I told her, why don't we research how to plant kamatis? We searched, how to plant green onions, and she's very interested, cause she's very visual e.
Everytime we see something online, I connect it with something tangible in real life so she doesn't depend her satisfaction on watching lang. It has to be something that can be translated to a physical activity that we can both do together.
They can explore a lot of ways. They can work out together, she sees me doing barre 3 or whatever workout I see from Youtube. She sees that, and she sees that okay, it's just a source. It's not a replacement to a person. It can be like my teacher sometimes, but it's not the only person that I go to if I want to enjoy or pass time.
I think it's important that parents know that the internet, and gadgets and technology, for that matter, is a tool. It's not the ultimate. It's not where we base our lives on. I am a tangible person living in a tangible world. Therefore I must be able to communicate in a tangible, physical way, to people around me. And if I don't show that to my child, my child might end up just preferring online relationships, connecting to people digitally, but not physically, anymore.
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SP: How do you protect your child from the dangers of the internet?
Bettina: For one, we can make use of tools that are available in the market, tools that help us filter their usage. But ultimately, we speak with our children, we communicate with our children. It has to be a patient communication on what should and shouldn't be, what a good picture is and what a bad picture is. You have to educate them before they become curious and ask their classmates, who also don't know about what they could see on the internet. Build the kind of intimate relationship with your child where she can open up to you and ask about anything. They should know that their parent is a safe place, a safe person to ask if there's something they don't know. They should be assured na they won't get the reaction na 'Why are you watching that?!' Be the parent who listens to understand, not to talk.