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Why analog parenting trumps TV and TikTok

By RICARDO PAMINTUAN Published Feb 18, 2024 8:59 am

No, this is nothing like Steinbeck’s American Dream and the harsh realities of life during the Depression. Rather, this is about every person’s dream (or nightmare) of raising children and molding them into model adult citizens, and the fulfilling acceptance of how they turned out.

It’s been nearly 30 years since I first penned my thoughts on parenting, and I must say hindsight has a funny way of making you cringe at your past self. Back then, I was the quintessential nagging parent, doling out directives as if I were the CEO of “Household Inc.” But we know who’s the real boss at home, right? My fellow takusa, as in, takot sa asawa (afraid of the wife).

My intentions were certainly noble, a young parent hoping to produce independent, self-reliant grownups out of life’s greatest mystery, our children. How I missed the mark as I groped around in the depths of over-expectation and tactlessness with the grace of a bull in a china shop.

A parent and child, creating memories and learning side by side on the beautiful journey of parenthood.

Imagine me, the de facto commander-in-chief of the entertainment center that was the TV set, barking orders at my kids like they were troops in a poorly coordinated attack against the evils of primetime programming. They were battles I mostly lost to my smart-ass daughter, no thanks to Barney and Ms. Frizzle. Nowadays, I don’t even know or bother to ask what she and her brother are watching online.

Let’s not forget my futile attempts at preventing them from turning our king-size bed into a makeshift trampoline, especially after a sugar overload. With the frequency of admonition, it’s a miracle they didn’t grow up thinking “no jumping on the bed” was a universal law akin to gravity. Their separate bedrooms remain arenas for discipline and character formation whenever they have to be reminded to tidy up and organize like Marie Kondo.

No matter how many books we throw at them, no matter how we turn TVs (and now, tablets) into babysitters, children will always look to their parents as the ultimate role models.

I can’t believe I used to be as anal as this. Some would say I still am. Perhaps I harbored delusions of raising mini-adults instead of, you know, actual children. Maybe it wasn’t enough that the kids had to physically resemble me or my wife (they do, uncannily); they had to be like us. I was so fixated on molding them into paragons of maturity, or even clones of me, that I forgot they were still basically small people who, like Jon Snow, knew nothing.

So, how does one navigate the treacherous waters of parenthood without morphing into a tyrant? More precisely, how did I get this far as a parent?

Together through books, where tradition and shared stories create the magic that binds us.

For starters, I relied on history and time-honored tactics for guidance. Once you become a parent, the words of elders suddenly rush to the rescue during uncertain or awkward moments. I chose to emulate them on a case-to-case basis.

Sure, my toddlers could not have grasped the nuances of Kantian ethics at the time, but they could certainly tell a good TV commercial from a bad one or manage a giggle when they heard coarse language. And while they may have struggled to differentiate between a Tagalog derivative word and an original Spanish term, they could discern and appreciate the moral quandaries faced by a mischievous monkey named Curious George.

From bedtime stories to screen time, the journey of modern parenting unfolds with a touch and a swipe.

Of course, practical training can only take you so far. That is why I had supplemented our bedtime stories with a healthy dose of William Bennett’s Book of Virtues, for nothing says “goodnight” like a hefty tome on moral philosophy.

Storytelling is also beneficial for the narrator, as I discovered for myself. Even the ubiquitous idiot box could be a fount of learning and wisdom. My kids probably acquired invaluable life lessons from that purple anthropomorphic dinosaur, Barney, or the animated Babar the Elephant. But they didn’t develop a foreign accent the way some fans of Peppa Pig have oddly sounded like proper British lads and lasses. Formal education also got a much-needed boost from the Magic School Bus and the way the show made science more fascinating. Google’s results can’t quite compare to the “fun-while-learning” attribute of Ms. Frizzle and her culturally diverse class.

But here’s the kicker: no matter how many books we throw at them, no matter how we turn TVs (and now, tablets) into babysitters, children will always look to their parents as the ultimate role models. It’s a sobering thought, realizing that every eye roll and muttered profanity, every dangerous road maneuver and act of kindness, every socio-political opinion made over a meal, is being meticulously preserved and encoded in the family’s genetic history through the children’s senses. I’m glad that as far as I know, our kids witnessed more of the good than the bad in us to grow up with the right mix of independence and deference.

A snapshot of modern parenting struggles, where screens captivate the young while parental concerns linger in the background.

During my daily walks, I see my young neighbors with their tiny, rambunctious suburban kids in tow, maybe a dog or two with them. I wonder how they’re faring in Parenting 101. The shows I mentioned are alive and well on DVD or streaming services, and the books are also there for anyone who still cares enough to read printed materials. They are as fine resource materials now as they were back then, just as Dr. Spock (the real doctor, not the mythical Vulcan) has survived the onslaught of self-proclaimed experts on the internet.

Does old-school child rearing trump present-day apps and online tutorials? Can the need of the young’uns for constant attention and affirmation through social media be tamed by parental edification on the good old days that was the analog age? I believe so, yes.

At the end of the day, it is the physical and spiritual connection that literally binds parents to their children. Mobile phones, computers, and all things digital are highly useful for gathering information but at the end of the day, they are merely tools. It behooves parents to recognize their use as complementary, not necessary, to raising well-adjusted children with a high sense of moral ethics and empathy.

Will this reality check put an end to my nagging-parent days? Let’s just say old habits die harder than a resilient weed. I still worry when my kids go out by themselves and wonder if they are behaving properly.

I mull over their future, what unfulfilled dreams they may have and how I can assist them reach their goals. I try to convince myself that I am still the voice of reason, even when my audience would rather be watching cats or dogs being silly on YouTube. And when I get fed up, I simply mutter: “Tatanda rin kayo. (You’ll also get old).”