What Can We Take-Away from the Documentary Screenagers?

DR. ZAN STRUEBING, SCHOOL PSYCHOLOGIST: Recently, The Peck School invited parents, students and members of the greater Morristown area to attend a screening of the thought provoking documentary Screenagers. As the film’s website asks, “Are you watching kids scroll through life, with their rapid-fire thumbs and a six-second attention span?”

For many of us who are equal parts parent and faculty, finding ways to positively navigate the current technological landscape is a high priority.

The site goes on to explain that physician and filmmaker Delaney Ruston saw this with her own kids and learned that the average child spends 6.5 hours a day looking at screens. She wondered about the impact of all this time and about the friction occurring in homes and schools around negotiating screen time—friction she knew all too well. The film ultimately reveals how tech time impacts children’s development and offers solutions on how adults can empower kids to best navigate the digital world and find balance.

Several days after the screening, The Peck School scheduled a follow up coffee to allow parents the opportunity to share their thoughts and impressions. Having the opportunity to experience and then discuss timely topics that impact our community is one of my great joys here at Peck. For many of us who are equal parts parent and faculty, finding ways to positively navigate the current technological landscape is a high priority. For this reason, continuing to contemplate the messages delivered in Screenagers is useful.

For those of us who gathered to discuss our responses to Screenagers, one of the most striking scenes was the research with mice proving that rapid pace media exposure resulted in slow processing and a loss of ability to problem-solve. Namely, the mice exposed to screens were not able to find their way through mazes, a task normally learned and completed with relative ease. Further, the researchers observed a diminishing of neural connections–a loss that proved to be permanent. Could our children be at risk of similar long-term deficits?

Further, we were intrigued by the notions that boys are typically more drawn in by video games, at times to the point of addiction. We were chilled by the knowledge that games involving first-person shootings have their roots in military training and were designed to desensitize soldiers to death. On the other hand, Screenagers represented girls as being more drawn to their phones and social media. While this gender divide might be representative of the norm, we could all think of exceptions–boys attached to their phones and girls immersed in the gaming culture.

We had great empathy for the daughter, depicted in the movie, who reported that she wanted a smartphone so that she could ease the awkwardness of certain social situations, allowing her to look occupied when she didn’t know what to say. However, the other resounding message was our own need, as adults, to be thoughtful about our own use of technology. We renewed our commitment to be mindful of how we can become drawn into our devices when our children are ready and willing to talk to us. We may be guilty of only listening partially or giving those inattentive, “uh huh” responses that do little to model positive social behavior and even less to honor our relationships with those who are right there with us–up close and personal!

If we can be aware of the times that we and our children are making others in our presence feel ignored while we text, check a quick email, look at social media… then we can remind ourselves to focus on the moment and the person at hand. Digital communication can, as the motivational speaker and TED Talker Simon Sinek reminded us, be useful in the maintenance of relationships; however, it is not a successful method for forming relationships. And, I would just add, that it should not be valued over the opportunity for face-to-face interaction. It is those face to face interactions, where one can observe and interpret emotion, that provide the best opportunities for empathy, growth, and development.

Finally, an important take away from Screenagers was the need to have family conversations, with input from all family members, about the ways our values intersect with our use of technology. We need to have collective conversations about how and when devices are to be used. We need to acknowledge the ways in which technology can enhance and facilitate our lives while also understanding that it is a tool, which we must manage with care.

At Screenagersmovie.com members of our community can sign up for Tech Talk Tuesdays to receive prompts to hold these ongoing discussions. In addition, we can talk to one another. By coming together as parents and educators, we can find ways to reap the benefits of our technological opportunities while still valuing good old-fashioned human contact.

Download the Parent Guide to Having a Conversation About Screentime (PDF)

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