by Victor Layug, contributor
[This article is the first in a two-part feature.]
‘Dare To Ask: A Symposium on Social Networking, Responsible Parenthood and the Youth’ was held on September 17 at the Grand Theater of the Administrative Building of the University of Makati. The forum was attended by the students of the University, hailing from courses such as Allied Health, the Citizen Leadership Training Program, the Safety Management Training Program, Information Technology, Business Education, and Performing and Broadcasting Arts, among others. The event was also attended by: Milagros Torres, the Executive Director of the K-12 program of University of Makati; Leonora Burgos, the university’s Guidance Counselor; and Ms. Gloria Mallari.
Hershelle Alfonso, the emcee of the event, started the program by introducing Cecille Villa, the Executive Director of the Foundation for Adolescent Development (FAD). Ms. Villa thanked everyone in the audience for attending, and reminded everyone that they have a friend in FAD. She went on to retell the story of how FAD, since 1988, has reached out to the youth and helped them by providing information, education, counseling and in some cases direct medical adolescence.
Ms. Villa told the audience how 2012 marks the first partnership between FAD and the University of Makati. The objectives of the partnership are: to gather baseline info on health, sexuality, population and development; to provide youth a friendly forum where students can ask, clarify and engage in informative discussion on health, sexuality, population and development; and to build a community online via social networks through the efforts of the Foundation for Adolescent Development and the Philippine Center for Population and Development.
The first guest speaker for the event was Ana Santos, the founder and editorial director of SexAndSensibilities.com: a website that provides practical information about sex and sexual health. She started off by saying that the Philippines was the social media capital of the world, ranked as the 5th highest number of Internet users, and either the 5th or 7th on Twitter. Moreover, 30% of Filipinos are online, and of that 30%, 92% are on Facebook.
Being the social media capital of the world isn’t all sunshine and butterflies, Ms. Santos explained. It has a good, a bad and an ugly side.
The Philippines is the #1 country most vulnerable to natural disasters, experiencing approximately 20 typhoons each year. Social media, however, has helped Filipinos rise up to meet the challenge and evade being eroded by these natural disasters. The use of social media has allowed numerous Filipinos to rally support online in times of crisis. The Philippines is also the #1 exporter of human talent, with an estimated 12 million Filipinos working abroad.
Ms. Santos then quoted Michelle Obama: “How hard you work is more important than the income.” Ms. Obama, wife of current US president Barack Obama, was the daughter of a pump generator, a job that doesn’t exactly pay large amounts of money. But, her parents worked very hard to put Michelle and her sister through school because, according to Michelle’s father, “the ability to put a child through school is the true measure of a man.”
To transition from the work-related ethic that Michelle Obama espoused to the bad things about social media, Ms. Santos discussed a recent string of local advertisements by a clothing brand. The advertisements state that if you mix a little bit of foreign blood with Filipino blood, the resulting child will be beautiful. She expressed her annoyance at this ad campaign because she said it was misleading. The advertisements imply that if you’re beautiful you will succeed in life no matter how hard you actually work.
Moving further into the topic of how social media has bad aspects, Ms. Santos discussed the growing frequency of ‘sexting,’ with up to one billion erotic text messages and MMS messages sent every day. These are compounded by the problem of how online relationships can be complicated affairs, sometimes creating a fake level of intimacy.Then, there was the topic of cyberbullying, such as in the case of Christopher Lo, a Philosophy graduate from the University of the Philippines. He was the object of ridicule on social media sites after insisting on driving through a flooded street only to have his car stall in the middle of the flood. When interviewed afterwards, he merely stated that “he wasn’t informed.”
Christopher Lo has moved on from the experience, and is now an advocate against cyber-bullying. He has even gone on to become an endorser of car insurance.
The last negative aspect of social media that Ms. Santos discussed was the issue of electronic violence. This kind of online attack features elements of verbal abuse, stalking and sexual harassment, the victims of which are usually women. Ms. Santos then informed the audience about the Take Back the Tech initiative (http://www.takebackthetech.net/), a collaborative campaign that calls on everyone to take back technology in an attempt to end violence against women.
Despite having all this information available to us, there are still a lot who are uninformed. Not only is the information gap ever present, but teen pregnancy is also quickly becoming an epidemic. Ms. Santos played a video of an interview she once did with a woman who had her first child at age 16, and went on to have 22 children. Of the 22, 5 have died. When asked why she had child after child, she replied, “I didn’t know how to stop getting pregnant.” The appropriate response to this problem would have been the provision of more education, which lessens the likelihood of teenage pregnancy. Ms. Santos underlined the goal of how we can make social media work for us, and disseminate the information that people need.
To close her talk, Ms. Santos reminded the audience about several things:
- Dare to ask questions
- Arm yourself with information
- Dare to know
- Dare to speak
- Be a source of information
Once you are armed with information, spread the word because information is potentially life-saving. Young people are so full of hope and potential, so the most effective form of birth control is to have a dream.
After Ms. Santos’s talk, an open forum was conducted. One question from the audience was: as a parent, at what age would she allow her child to have a relationship? Would she allow it to be ‘legal,’ or approved of in public? She replied that should the situation arise, she might consider it, but only later on. She pointed out that young people tend to get into relationships out of the need for validation, so she cited other forms of validation aside from relationships that they can enjoy. Usually, she said, the kids who do seek romantic validation might not be feeling enough affection at home.
Ms. Santos also said that kids should be open and vocal with their parents, and vice-versa, as Ana is with her own 10-year-old daughter. Parents should be there to listen and to provide guidance, not to judge.
Another question presented to Ms. Santos involved the issue of pornography. Given that pornographic materials demonstrate their own notions of sex, how should young people prepare for their own first sexual encounter? She replied by saying that a vast majority of porn is unrealistic and geared towards entertainment purposes rather than instruction. Her advice was to look at porn through filtered eyes, to recognize that not all sexual encounters are like those ones seen in porn. She then emphasized the importance of getting reliable, respectful information about sexual health, from family and medical professionals, so that people aren’t incorrectly influenced.[To be continued.]
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