A new film discusses the importance of limiting electronic media exposure for teens.
Directed by filmmaker Dr. Delaney Ruston, the new documentary Screenagers seeks to start conversations that help children and families find a healthy balance of screen time in their lives. A variety of experts are included in the film. Some of the topics covered are: managing screen time, cell phone and video game addiction, digital citizenship, social media’s impact on self-esteem, violent video games, and proof that attention and memory processing are negatively impacted by multitasking (for example, listening to music while doing homework).
The film centers on Ruston’s own twelve year-old daughter and fourteen year-old son who, like many children, are coming of age in an electronic era. Unfortunately, as a result Screenagers talks about technology almost exclusively as a tween/teen issue – a concept now long outdated.
The standards and issues that facing younger children are often very different than those faced by teens. Even in the short time since launching this film, the average age a child is given a smart phone has plummeted like a rock. It’s not uncommon nowadays for elementary-age students to have their own smart phone; and some school districts have even adopted a “Bring Your Own Phone” policy for elementary-aged children. But many parents don’t understand that wifi can be disabled at home for their children to use electronic readers and other devices, but that students are required to turn ON wifi at school. This can open access to all manner of content. And many of these phones come to school with no parental controls on them at all, putting all the students in the environment at risk. None of these facts are discussed in Screenagers, thus rendering the film less valuable than it might otherwise have been.
Screenagers has been distributed under a “community viewing model,” with the intention that it be seen in a group setting, followed by a panel discussion. Often, organizers and experts are on hand for questions, giving viewers the opportunity for a town hall-type conversation that can be the most powerful part of the event. It engages real people in community and gives them a voice. The Screenagers viewing in Nashville, Tennessee brought out about 700 people, many of them students, demonstrating desire on the part of families and the community to become better informed about the benefits, as well as the ever-changing dangers, of the electronic age.
During the Nashville panel discussion, one of the film’s producers spoke candidly about what prompted her to make this film with childhood friend Ruston, and their specific desire to address managing screen time and helping families find balance, while purposely steering clear of safety issues that they believed others were already addressing. Sadly, this meant that a valuable opportunity was lost to warn and educate parents, students, and the community about the constantly evolving threats and dangers of the electronic age. This aside, Screenagers is a valuable tool for helping parents become more comfortable with the environment our children are growing up in.
It has taken a village to create some of these problems, and it will take a village to fix them. Screenagers helps start an urgent and important conversation that we all need to be having. But, please don’t stop there.