Best of Digressions

Parents, let’s not feel too guilty about screen time, OK?

Guys, I’m not a developmental psychologist. I’m a tired parent.

Let’s address the elephant in the room — the whole screen time issue with our children is a drag. The struggle is real: balancing the conflicted amount of guilt whenever we pull out the phones at a restaurant so that the kids can sit still and eat versus just having them sit and play with the food. Or that family photo that we need to curate well so that the kids aren’t looking at the phones when the picture is taken. Choose: sit and watch videos while waiting for your turn at the pediatrician or run around the hospital trying to catch them (on all fours my god)?

I’m not sure if this is how our parents felt — we grew up with television and the Family Computer. So maybe that was screen time for us? But what our parents did have was the luxury of not being judged on social media by whoop dee doo — other parents. And strangers who do not know what it is like to have a 5 year old.

Fellow parents, I say this: let’s not feel to guilty about the phone. I’ve managed to convince myself that these are the cards that are dealt to this generation, the so-called “digital natives.” And what many people forget is that they tend to isolate screen time as a problem in itself when in fact kids, by nature do get tired of the screen and would rather play outside (and get dirty). Yes my kids use the phone a lot. But i have to keep reminding myself that I have to give them two evening baths because they run around the house after dinner with their LEGO’s and dinosaurs and scooters. Or how weekends with their cousins are pure bliss — running around the park and getting scabs on the concrete pavement. So yeah, they aren’t missing out.

I do have three learnings I would like to share though.

Don’t use regular YouTube
If you do let your kids watch YouTube on the phone, use the Youtube Kids app. It’s a much safer way for them to discover content. There are a lot of disgusting people out there who release sexual content (using kiddie toys like Barbie or GI Joe) masking them as ‘Let’s Play’ or ‘unboxing’ videos which get placed in the Related Videos section and the algorithm can’t tell the difference. At the very least, the YouTube Kids app is a lot more well-curated by humans — and parents.

Switch them from passive to an active screen
When you can, “upgrade” them to video games. My eldest son (he’s 5) has discovered the wonderful world of rage quitting on the Nintendo Switch because he keeps falling off platforms in Skylanders Imaginators. There is a learning opportunity here — as I oft recall moments when I would throw the controller from sheer frustration with Mega Man for the Nintendo in the 80’s. So these father and son moments with video games are important in teaching life skills like how to deal with failure and frustration.

Sometimes we just need to ask
Last — sometimes we forget to ask our kids what they really want to do. There were times when I would mechanically hand over the phone to my eldest because I know, historically, that he wants to watch Dino Trux on Netflix. But then he tells me that he wants his crayons so he can draw The Avengers instead. I forgot to ask. Well, what do you know, right?

To end, I also have to keep reminding myself that back in the day our parents told us that MTV was bad. So were the Simpsons. And that their parents said that The Beatles were the devil reincarnated. We are part of a cycle of parenting.

This piece originally appeared in my Dad Buds column for The Manila Bulletin on May 20 2018.

Best of Digressions

Being a ‘houseband’ for five years helped me realize the silent struggle of many mothers

Note: This column appeared in Manila Bulletin’s print edition on April 14 2018. You can also read the online version.

For the past century, modern society has relegated women as the “light” of the family — which felt more like a consolation title to having that heavy burden of rearing children and managing the home. Like most things in life, this is easier said than done and I assure you, having taken the role of a “house husband” for more than 60 months has made me empathise with how we see parenting from the mother’s point of view.

Here are three things I learned (and am learning) to accept for being a ‘houseband’ in charge of a home and two small kids for 5 years:

On having that ‘second wind’
One of the best moments coming home to family were that few seconds where my boys would run to the door and tackle me with hugs (and plastic swords). As a parent, we all know that second wind — the fatigue from a long day at work washes away when we see our family. It’s not as easy when you’ve been at home the whole day. You’re just tired. Imagine now the roles being reversed — if your wife stays home she must probably feel the same thing. Now I totally get why it’s offensive to say “But you were just home! You didn’t have to go out?” A stay-at-home parent doesn’t have an office job that acts like a vacation from the kids.

On celebrating weekends
When I got back to working weekdays full time, I became oddly excited for the weekend. My wife, who works a full-time job all the way in Quezon City (we live in the south) and I woke early (we have kids duh!) and had brunch in one of those garden malls nearby. I told her “OK now I get it. I know why you look forward to weekends.” Being a stay-at-home parent made me complacent with weekends because it felt like “just any other day” except that your spouse is home. On one end, she dug me out of the hole which was domestic life and helped me remember that married life is a lot more than just having children.


On having honest conversations
One evening I almost broke down in front of my wife because there were just too many things that needed to be done. Balancing my work, taking care of the kids (thank heavens for their grandparents being around when needed), chores, our marriage – this was a huge turning point that led me to really do a deep dive into what it means to handle a household and, more importantly, having a supportive partner, who I realize is on the same page. Had the roles been reversed and my wife told me the same thing I could easily have said “Kaya mo yan! You’re so good at it,” but now I know this response would have come from a place of zero empathy. My wife asked me “how can we make it better?”

Are you a stay-at-home dad? Then kudos to you! Because at the end of the day, there’s nothing like having a home with a father’s touch!