Tell It To SunStar: What if?

Tell It To SunStar: What if?

IN THE modern digital milieu, our youth, also referred to as digital natives, find themselves ensconced within the cyber realm, where the delineation between personal expression and the potential for exploitation remains nebulous. Several days prior, while I was skimming through my Facebook notifications and messages, I chanced upon a thumbnail showing a brief video titled "Nakakakilig" (Titillating). Accompanied by the caption "What if 'pakilala na kita sa mga magulang ko (What if I had already introduced you to my parents),'" the video, uploaded by Jhaira Cronico 2.0, has garnered over six million views as of this writing.

As a parent, I may have overreacted that this article encapsulates both my reaction and response to the video. The 3-minute video clip entices viewers into the interactions of adolescents, where curiosity, playfulness, and a splash of youthful bravado combine. What might be dismissed as ostensibly light-hearted and hilarious by the content creators themselves, the video, titled "Nakakakilig," raised my concern, particularly given the actors are minors—perhaps ranging from sixth to eighth grade. I deemed them too young to delve into the intricacies of romantic relationships and prurient inclinations.

A sense of detachment ensued as I couldn’t relate to them. Some may argue that skipping the video was the best option, yet my contemplation persisted. Even so, I did not finish watching the entire video. The thought of adolescents as young as 12 or 13 contemplating introducing their romantic interests to their parents seemed bizarre and appalling. While the video elicited many "lol" reactions, perusing the comments, including my own, revealed an overarching discontent. The video's content, to my judgment, exuded an air of cringe-worthiness. It certainly did not live up to its title instead it was worrisome.

My frustration emanated from the notion that these youngsters could actually spend their time to more meaningful activities—such as reading, studying, or contributing to household chores—instead of indulging in online exchanges laden with purportedly "amusing pick-up lines and emotional banters." It bothered me further imagining the trajectory of their youthful energy, potentially squandered in vain and useless pursuits. My annoyance with the video lies in the apparent imprudent prioritization of a shallow understanding of love, relegating it to a mere pursuit of amusement and a fleeting trend as a foundation for committing to romantic-erotic relationships.

The seductive power of social media validation—the desire for likes, comments, and followers, has lured teenage boys and girls into a digital space where the line between harmless self-expression and age-inappropriate content is muffled. What is often dismissed as harmless banter can become a complex drama, showcasing an irresponsible understanding of love and relationships. Rather than investing time in meaningful connections and substantial personal development activities, the actors, whether willfully or forced to act, in this digital interplay seem to prioritize immediate gratification, transient popularity, and superficial validation over enduring growth.

Our social media presence

According to the World Data Lab, despite a large percentage of Filipinos lacking internet access, the Philippines stands as the 7th global leader in internet accessibility. Derived from combined data sources as outlined in https://oosga.com, an estimated 94 million active social media users, largely accessing platforms via mobile devices, underscore the pervasive presence of Filipinos in the digital space despite poor internet connectivity.

It is interesting to note Filipino social media usage habits. DICT Undersecretary Jocelle Batapa-Sigue in a news article published online by The Philippine Star on June 4, 2023, confirmed that 83% of Filipinos are users of the internet. With many daily activities tied to social media, users in the Philippines spend an average of 4.1 hours on these platforms each day, which is significantly higher than the global average of around 2 hours. In a separate article published by Statista Research Department on September 6, 2023, Internet users in the Philippines spent an average of 9.14 hours accessing the Internet on various devices during the third quarter of 2022 with a daily average time of 3.43 hours spent on social media.

The survey in 2022 published on the website oosga.com reveals approximately 93.8 million active social media users in the Philippines, constituting 82.4 percent of the addressable demographics. Notably, from 2021 to 2022, user numbers witnessed a 3.4 percent surge. January 2023 statistics depicted a growth rate of 0.94 percent, yielding approximately 90.2 million Facebook users in the Philippines. Male users constitute approximately 46.45 percent, with females comprising the remaining 53.55 percent. Given these staggering statistics, particularly among teenagers from ages 13 to 17, questions regarding the quality of their digital dealings naturally surface.

The question then arises: what prompts such worry? What is happening with our so-called “hope of our motherland?”

This concern deepens considering that the actors and most of the viewers of the video are unequivocally minors, whose impressionable minds make them susceptible to the influences permeating the expansive cyberspace. What worries me more is the fact that the cyberspace can be utterly unforgiving. Their escalating influence on viewers within the same age bracket – supposedly students - amplifies the disquiet. This frustration is compounded by the diversion from fundamental activities of young learners such as reading, essential for personal and intellectual development.

Reading, as a cornerstone of learning, regrettably takes a backseat as some youth seem to gravitate towards amusement and entertainment, shunning meaningful personal growth. The 2022 PISA Results underscore this point, indicating a dearth of Philippine students scoring at Level 5 or higher in reading, with only 24 percent attaining Level 2. This lackluster performance is mirrored in the subpar outcomes in math and science for 15-year-olds in the Philippines. The same showing of dismal performance in all areas – reading, science, and math happened in 2018 when the Philippines’ learners aged 15 ranked second to the last out of 78 countries who participated in the international assessment.

So, it is not surprising that some netizens responded to the video with a pinch of sarcasm: “What if mag-aral muna kayo ng mabuti at matutong magbasa? (What if you study well and learn how to read first?)

Criticism may be leveled at me for the perceived false attribution or fallacious causality linking the irresponsibility portrayed in the video to poor study habits and reading comprehension, escalating number of teenage pregnancies, and horrific cybercrime cases victimizing our children. The 2017 Philippine National Demographic and Health Survey, published by the National Library of Medicine on December 21, 2022, reports a concerning 9 percent of teenage girls between 15 and 19 in the Philippines have initiated childbearing. While a decline is noted in this age group, a new apprehension emerges regarding pregnancies among 10 to 14-year-olds, as highlighted by the Commission on Population and Development (PopCom) in a February 3, 2023, article by the Philippine Daily Inquirer.

In 2019, the birth count for girls in the 10 to 14 age group stood at 2,411. Dr. Myra Yee, Medical Officer of DepEd Northern Mindanao (Region 10), emphasized in a Rappler article in 2020 that these numbers are disconcerting, given the physiological immaturity of these students for childbearing. Dr. Yee attributes the rise in early sexual encounters to the pervasive influence of the internet and social media, stating, “Almost everyone is influenced by social media. The easy access to the internet plays a pivotal role in why these students engage in early sexual encounters.”

Adolescents, though possessing a semblance of adult-like navigational skills, often find themselves incapable of coping with the consequences of their immature actions and decisions. Barceta (2023), from the Department of Social Welfare and Development Social Technology Bureau, reported a staggering 133,000 minor-led families in 2021. Speculation arises concerning the burden placed on these minor-led families, likely passed onto parents, grandparents, older siblings, or relatives; hence, perpetuating the cycle of poverty. Educational abandonment is not uncommon, as evidenced by the 2019 PSA’s Annual Poverty Indicators Survey, which indicated more than 2.97 million school dropouts. Of this figure, 61.9% were girls aged 16 to 24, coerced into "marriage or family matters." This societal phenomenon perpetuates a cycle of poverty, with early parenthood disenfranchising mostly young girls from economic opportunities as they get tied to their responsibility of rearing a child. This alarming initiation into one of life’s challenges signifies a disquieting trend.

Another disturbing situation is the escalating number of cybercrime-related cases involving children in the Philippines. The Philippine News Agency reported in 2022 that six out of 10 children aged 8 to 10 were exposed to cyber risks, including phishing, hacking, cyberbullying, and sexual exploitation, attributable to the widespread availability and accessibility of smartphones and tablets, even among the very young.

Additionally, the United Nations Children’s Fund asserted that 20% of Internet-using children aged 12 to 17 in the Philippines fell victim to online sexual exploitation and abuse. According to a separate report by the Department of Justice, cases of online child sexual exploitation nearly tripled during the quarantine period, from 76,561 in 2019 to 279,166 reported cases from March 1 to May 24, 2020. Furthermore, unconfirmed cyber tip reports surged to 2.8 million cases in 2021, compared to 1.2 million in 2020 and about 400,000 in 2019.

Our so-called “hope” is vulnerable.

In the face of these formidable challenges, a resounding question echoes: "Do our youth still embody the promise of our nation?"

These disheartening statistics do not inherently negate the latent potential within our youth. I don’t lose hope. I take this situation from a pragmatic and realistic view that our youth are not the only hope of this nation. They need the guidance of more discerning adults. True enough that our youth have the capability to navigate a world marred by disruption, volatility, uncertainty, complexity, ambiguity, and diversity. Equipped with information and guided appropriately, they can transform digital interactions into substantive contributions—a beacon of hope amid challenges.

While shadows may be cast by these alarming statistics, the inherent light of resilience within the youth illuminates a brighter future for our motherland. There is hope, contingent upon responsible digital engagement and the collaborative efforts of community stakeholders – school and home in shaping our youth.

Collective Action for Comprehensive Guidance

The "Nakakakilig" video serves as both an eye-opener and an impetus for broader societal discourse. In this context, the imperative is the active involvement of the youth in discussions encompassing both the dynamics of adolescent expression in the digital space and their responsible online engagement. Such engagement should be reinforced by parental consent, awareness, and a holistic comprehension of its multidimensional implications on youth development. Acknowledging the inherent interconnectedness of the digital and the personal in the cyberworld, fostering open dialogues becomes crucial to guiding our youth toward authentic, balanced, and responsible netizenship. This ensures they evolve into discerning consumers of information.

Shaping our youth necessitates a holistic approach, requiring collaboration among the community, school, and home. The adage "It takes a village to raise a child" remains pertinent. In the evolving landscape of youth engagement, communities, schools, and homes play fundamental yet pivotal roles in shaping values, aspirations, and the overall well-being of our youth. While each sphere bears unique responsibilities, the interconnectedness among them contributes to the holistic development of our youngsters.

The community, as a broader backdrop, provides the canvas against which youth navigate their digital and personal spaces. Through stakeholders and government units, the community can institute programs, activities, and projects that promote digital literacy. This assists youth in differentiating between constructive and potentially detrimental online content. Additionally, the community must spearhead efforts in creating safe spaces—both online and offline—where youngsters can express themselves responsibly. It is crucial to instill in them that the right to self-expression, regardless of form and means, comes with the responsibility to protect and respect the rights of others. Proverbs 22:6 encapsulates this ethos, asserting, "Train up a child in the way he should go; even when he is old, he will not depart from it." As an extended family, the community contributes to the foundational training guiding the youth throughout their lives.

The school, a crucial part of the conversation, bears responsibilities extending beyond traditional academic pursuits. Education programs must address digital literacy and responsible online behavior, fostering a positive school culture emphasizing respect, empathy, and open communication. Aligned with Ephesians 6:4, which admonishes fathers not to provoke children to anger but to bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord, schools serve as extensions of values taught at home, providing a space for discipline and instruction. Circling back to the 2022 PISA results, the basic education system must prioritize efforts to improve the reading skills of our youth and never promote learners from one grade level to the next sans their ability to read.

The home being the fortress of core values must instill and nurture the foundation upon which youth build their identities. Parents, occupying a pivotal role, must guide their children's digital interactions. Awareness of children’s digital footprints is imperative to prevent them from straying in the digital space. Engaging children in open conversations about online behavior, setting boundaries, and modeling responsible technology use contributes to a healthy digital upbringing. Creating opportunities for family engagement, both online and offline, fortifies familial bonds and provides a supportive environment for youth to navigate challenges. Proverbs 24:3-4 serves as a poignant reminder, stating, "By wisdom, a house is built, and by understanding, it is established; by knowledge, the rooms are filled with all precious and pleasant riches." Homes, imbued with wisdom, understanding, and knowledge, constitute the bedrock for youth growth.

The responsibilities of the community, school, and home are interconnected, requiring collaborative efforts for holistic youth development. Establishing support networks within the community, where parents, educators, and community leaders collaborate, reinforces a shared commitment to youth well-being. Drawing inspiration from Ecclesiastes 4:9-10, "Two are better than one because they have a good reward for their toil. For if they fall, one will lift up his fellow. But woe to him who is alone when he falls and has not another to lift him up!" The collaboration of community, school, and home forms a potent force, uplifting youth in the face of challenges.

The Call for Balance and Holistic Approach

In the intricate tapestry of adolescent expression, the growing apprehension extends to the potential exploitation of minors. In their pursuit of momentary online fame, they inadvertently expose themselves to the dangers inherent in sharing personal details and emotions in cyberspace. The digital realm can be an unforgiving and callous parking space.

Essentially, my expressed frustration is a call for balance—a call to encourage the youth to engage in a diverse array of activities fostering holistic development. It does not censure self-expression but serves as a reminder that moderation and discernment are paramount. Prioritizing conversations around responsible online behavior, the importance of privacy, and the value of well-rounded personal growth becomes imperative. It signifies a collective effort to strike a balance between the allure of virtual popularity and the timeless virtues of reading, studying, and contributing to household well-being.

The community, school, and home shoulder the responsibility of nurturing responsible digital citizenship. By fostering a collaborative and supportive environment, these spheres can empower youth to navigate the complexities of the digital age with resilience, empathy, and a robust sense of identity. In this collective endeavor, the hope of our motherland rests on the foundation of a generation equipped with the skills, values, and support systems needed to thrive in the ever-evolving digital world. They stand poised to shape a promising future.(Ariem V. Cinco)

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(Ariem V. Cinco is the administrative officer V at the Department of Education (DepEd)-Eastern Visayas Regional Office in Palo, Leyte.)

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