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Parenting in the digital age

A mother compares and contrasts her life as a young girl with that of her three growing daughters 

By Daphne Oseña Paez

  • THE P GIRLS Daphne Oseña Paez and Patrick Paez, and their three girls Sophia, Lily, and Stella

    THE P GIRLS Daphne Oseña Paez and Patrick Paez, and their three girls Sophia, Lily, and Stella

  • DOWNTIME The Paez family, sans their gadgets, takes a break

    DOWNTIME The Paez family, sans their gadgets, takes a break

  • PRODUCTS OF THEIR TIME	Knowing how to set limits on gadget and Internet use have helped Daphne and Patrick intill discipline and creativity among their girls Sophia, Lily, and Stella

    PRODUCTS OF THEIR TIME Knowing how to set limits on gadget and Internet use have helped Daphne and Patrick intill discipline and creativity among their girls Sophia, Lily, and Stella

  • POSTCARDS FROM CANADA Despite the world being so different, raising children in this environment requires us parents to stick to the same values we were raised within our analog world.

    POSTCARDS FROM CANADA Despite the world being so different, raising children in this environment requires us parents to stick to the same values we were raised within our analog world.

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When I was a child I had one box of crayons for every school year. I had to make it last. If I accidentally broke one crayon, I carefully taped it back and continued to use it. I still have my set of Laurentien pencil crayons from high school. Recently, I bequeathed them to my girls who, despite appreciating the value of their mother’s art tools, removed the precious colored pencils from the original vintage tin and put them in their bin of art materials. I didn’t know if they cared about the sentimental value attached to my material thing. My girls are growing up in a different world. At birthday parties, loot bags would contain full-sized boxes of crayons and colored pencils. During my time, crayons were the gift to the celebrant. Now, the celebrant gives it out to guests.

My three daughters, Sophia, Lily, and Stella, were not only born in the Digital age, they were also born into a situation where both their parents are media practitioners. I was a TV host and producer, and my husband was a TV journalist. I was on TV throughout all three pregnancies until the moment I felt labor pains. Their births were all featured in my TV shows and in magazines. Sophia and I were on the cover of a magazine when she was 11 days old. Lily’s magazine cover came out when she was seven months. And Stella had a few herself.

As life would have it, we didn’t just have to adjust our parenting style to protect them from a potential public life, we also had to learn how to parent in this Digital Age, on our own. Ten years ago, no one had a guidebook of theories for parenting a millennial child. We just had mommy blogs. It was uncharted territory. We all learned as we went along. My guiding principle then, as an early blogger, had always been to set limits—no exact locations, no significant dates, no faces. Despite the appearances on TV and in magazines, I was carefully treading the world of the Internet with my kids. These rules and limits adjust as the digital landscape changes.

Maximum exposure

Fast forward to today, the girls are now 13, 10, and seven. We are no longer in the confines of our neighborhood preschool. In their “big” school, they are exposed to all things teens and tweens know about. It is the Internet Age so that pretty much includes everything. Even though my kids don’t have their own gadgets or social media accounts, they know about Donald Trump, ISIS, Caitlyn Jenner’s transition to being transgender, the Orlando shooting, and locally, President Duterte and issues affecting our nation. That’s a lot more than I knew when I was seven. And this is a house with a lot of limits on Internet use. We have rules like Internet is turned off when both parents are not home, no going online without adult supervision, no public Instagram accounts, no playing apps on school nights. For the most part they believe it is fair, because we give them time to go bike-riding, swimming, watch movies in cinemas, craft with clay, paint with real paint, paper, and canvas.

One of the biggest challenges for me is to teach them how to manage and understand all the information that is readily available. Even I, an adult with good education and exposure to world issues, am finding it hard to sift through what is real and what is important. I teach them to start with the basic ethics of journalism like searching for the truth, sticking to facts, and being fair. I encourage them to ask questions and not take everything they read as accurate and real. I also remind them that before they form an opinion, they must know all sides of the story. This is dinner conversation in the Paez household. We encourage having different opinions, exemplified by Patrick’s and my different political views. Respect is a non-negotiable both online and face-to-face.

Rampant consumerism

Parents today are not just challenged by protecting their kids with the hazards of the Internet, there are pressures brought about by rampant consumerism. I go back to the crayon story. Kids these days own more than one box of crayons. It is easy to take the value of things for granted because there are so many replacements readily available. Clothes are not as expensive as they used to be. They are also not as well-made, hence the term “fast fashion.” To counter this phenomenon, we try to instill the value of passing things on by being careful and gentle with their clothes. I encourage having favorites even if it’s just a BB-8 T-shirt from Uniqlo because this will remind them that someone designed this product and we should value creativity. Things such as toys and art supplies are well taken care of so that one day, someone else can use it. This is my way to inadvertently teach them the love of vintage and handmade objects, and to not find the need to have new things all the time.

Obviously, I am a believer in setting limits. Things and privileges shouldn’t come easy to anyone. My girls may have seemingly less than other kids in their school—perhaps not in material things, but in Internet presence, which is their main currency now. I believe that experiences offline are what our kids need most in this age of information and globalization. While things move at a rapid pace, it is when we slow down that we find our “happy place.” I try to make them see that real life experiences trump game levels, app downloads, followers, and likes. We share the love of traveling, going away to camp, eating together as a family, playing with friends, reading good books, doing recreational activities, having a physical sketchbook, and filling it up with artwork.

Cool mom

Instead of an iPad, notebooks and pencils kept my kids behaved at restaurants. They trust me, not just because I’m their mother, but because I share stories and pictures online professionally. I am in that digital world. I am not yet that uncool to them. I tell them that I am not defined by my numbers of likes and shares that my “success” was built on relationships with my readers and the trust that I protected for many decades. I have learned so much as one of the early bloggers, that I wrote these lessons in a book, CHIC, Tips on Life, Style, and Work, published by Summit Books. Simply put, it is the good old-fashioned value of hard work and paying one’s dues that can make one survive the pressures of the digital world.

A couple of days ago, while having a lovely afternoon tea with my three daughters at the Raffles Makati Hotel, Lily asked me, “Mom, when you were my age, were you afraid of terrorism? Did you have ISIS?” My children were born in a society that has armed security guards outside Starbucks. Their home is in a village with high walls and a barricade that swings up and down blocking cars without a sticker. They grew up being frisked and had their bags inspected when entering Power Plant Mall. They belong to a club with a sign that says, “Please deposit all your firearms before entering the facility.” And now Lily is worried about the borderless, invisible threat of terrorism.

Assuring kids

I should have a better answer for my kids when I’m asked about these threats. They have drills at school to protect them from extreme situations that we hope will never happen in our community. By nature, as parents, we automatically make them feel safe just by being beside them. I gave her a hug and said, “No Lily, we didn’t have the same kind of terrorism before. But we had the Cold War. I grew up afraid of a nuclear meltdown.” Canada was a sitting duck between two superpowers—the USA and the USSR. We were good as long as no one pressed that button. And as long as my parents said we were safe.

Despite the world being so different—with the demands and pressure of a life online, the ease of over-consumption, and the fear of terrorism—raising children in this environment requires us parents to stick to the same values we were raised within our analog world. With the world moving so fast, kids and teens must learn to tread amid the chaos and noise by being present and engaged in real life conversations, experiences, and relationships. And when a child is afraid or conflicted, parents can simply just give her a hug. There’s no app for that…not yet, anyway.

Daphne Oseña Paez is an award-winning TV host and author of CHIC: Tips on Life, Style, and Work published by Summit Books. She is the publisher and author of a self-named blog www.daphne.ph where she writes about design, fashion, home, travel, and stories about her family life. She has been appointed UNICEF Special Advocate for Children focusing on infant nutrition, maternal health, universal primary education, child protection, and fundraising. She has a line of products for the home—stationery, home scents, bed linen—under her brand DAPHNE® sold in the country’s big retail chains. Daphne has a B.A. in Fine Art History and Urban Studies from the University of Toronto.