No matter if your child is 6-months-old or 16-years-old, the topic of how much screen time they are exposed to is a hot one. While some parents shield their kids from technology during the early years, once you’re raising a tween or teenager, it’s often simply not an option. This issue of raising children in our screen-centric world is at the center of the thought-provoking new documentary Screenagers.
“When my daughter wanted a smart phone, I became really confused on what to do,” admits filmmaker, doctor, and mother of two Delaney Ruston. “I was concerned about her having social media and such available to her 24/7. As a doctor I was wondering about the physiologic and psychologic impact of all this screen time—what was its impact on kids’ sense of self, development of empathy, and risk of real addiction? But most importantly, as a parent, I wanted to figure out what to do to help my kids find their full potential in the face of this screen tsunami? And thus, Screenagers was born.”
Filled with staggering stats (68% of teens enter high school with a smartphone; the average teenage boy plays 11.3 hours of video games a week) and interviews with brain scientists, doctors, thought leaders (including Sherry Turkle and Peggy Orenstein), and real-life parents and kids, the hour-long film is an important one to watch and digest.
As for the biggest surprises of shooting the film, Delaney says it was how folks across the socio-economic spectrum struggled with screen time issues. “We feature a single mom of 5 in L.A. who got so frustrated she took the phones from her teens and threw them out the window, while an upper middle class mom described similar frustrations and drowned her daughters’ cellphones in a fishbowl,” she says. “There’s a reason families from all backgrounds are feeling so out of control. The reward centers activated by screen time are most primed for pleasure during the preteen and teen years. But the good news I also learned is that self control is not a fixed trait at birth, as I had assumed. Studies show self control is more malleable than IQ and that we have a great opportunity to teach self control.”
So, what can one do to avoid/navigate screen time addiction? The movie’s site suggests a list of totally do-able action items, such as joining its “tech talk Tuesdays” with your kids, creating a contract with your children when setting boundaries around tech, limiting your own use of technology and “walking the walk,” helping your kids explore activities that don’t involve screens, and making sure you keep informed about the healthy uses for social media and video games, and the latest research on it all. Find more on all things Screenagers and how you can watch the film yourself here.