Screenagers: How Much Screen Time Is Too Much?

March 12th, 2018

Teens spend up to 8 hours a day looking at screens. A new documentary takes a closer look at the ramifications . . . and you can see it at a special upcoming screening.

 Dr. Delaney Ruston was asking herself the same question that many parents of teenagers ask: How much screen time is too much?

With a 14-year-old son who loved videogames and a 12-year-old daughter asking for her first smartphone, Ruston, a physician, did some research about the power these screens wield over our children. She learned that youth spend anywhere from 6.5 to 8 hours a day on these devices, which can affect their minds in all sorts of ways, positive and negative.

These findings inspired Ruston, an experienced filmmaker, to direct the award-winning documentary, Screenagers: Growing Up in the Digital Age, which looks deeply into the issue.

Screenagers will highlight DLC’s 5th Annual Sound Minds Mental Health Symposium on March 24. Ruston will not attend the screening, but producer Lisa Tabb will lead a discussion afterward, and then at a reception. The event is open to ticket holders.

Tabb and Ruston have screened the hour-long film more than 4,000 times in 50-plus countries.  It’s been viewed by 2 million people, all in group settings that spark lively discussions. Audiences include parents, teachers, students, physicians, hospitals, mental health professionals, and others.

We asked Tabb about the film, and what she and Ruston have learned along the way during the screenings.

“If you’re a parent, psychologist, counselor, teacher, coach or anyone else interacting with kids and families, you’re dealing with this issue,” says Tabb. “Screenagers is both an eye opener and a way into a conversation. People are able to identify with characters, whether it’s a parent or a kid or a dynamic. They see themselves in the film.”

Tabb says Ruston didn’t originally intend to include her family in the film, but changed her mind when she realized how it might help other families. “It turned out to be a great way to tell the story, just by showing her own struggles,” says Tabb.

Screenagers is well-researched and full of evidence-based science so viewers can better understand the topic and act accordingly. “Parents are hungry to find solutions,” says Tabb, “and we believe the best way is to open a dialogue in the community and support each other.”

She says typical family struggles include “putting boundaries around the ever-creeping tsunami of screen time—the battles of having this device in our pockets at all times, when our children’s brains are not developed fully enough to resist this addictive device. We need to help them build skills that can create balance, because it can take over their lives.

“We need to create rules and guidelines that will help the kids, including the places and times we’re not going to be online or on the phone. Those kinds of rules can be really helpful—whether that’s no screen time during meals, in the hour before bedtime, or in our bedrooms when it’s time for sleep.” She says Ruston’s family has a no-screens rule in the car, “because that’s a magical time to have conversation with each other.”

Some experts are concerned that so much screen time—texting, social media, videos, etc.—may hamper teens’ communication skills. Tabb says some studies show “increased feelings of depression with overuse of social media,” and that in spite of the medium’s ability to connect, many teens feel isolated. “They see all these things happening on social media, and they see the places they’re feeling left out. Social media also poses a higher risk of micro-aggression and cyberbullying. We’ll talk about all of that at Sound Minds.”

The Screenagers website has a wealth of resources, including a weekly conversation called Tech Talk Tuesdays. The film is not available to buy, rent, or stream online; it can be seen only at scheduled screenings, like the upcoming Sounds Minds symposium. Learn more here.

 

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