Karen Heaps and I had a chance to view a screening of the documentary/movie Screenagers a few weeks ago, and though much of the information was familiar, I came away from it more concerned than ever about the effects that screens are having on our kids. Screenagers was produced by Delaney Ruston, a documentary filmmaker and primary care physician. Delaney was aware that the average kid spends 6.5 hours a day looking at screens. According to the website,

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. In SCREENAGERS, as with her award-winning documentaries on mental health, Delaney takes a deeply personal approach as she probes into the vulnerable corners of family life, including her own, to explore struggles over social media, video games, academics and internet addiction.

So here are some things we learned from the movie that are important:

  • Kids spend an average of 6.5 hours a day on screens, not including classroom or homework screen time, according to the 2015 Common Sense Media report.
  • Multi-tasking or “task shifting” causes us to be less effective than when we do one task at a time. So when kids are watching television, texting and using social media while doing homework, their homework time becomes much less productive.
  • Screen time may change our brains. The film includes a study of baby mice exposed to screen time who in turn develop fewer cells in the areas for of learning and memory than non-exposed mice. Might this be true for humans too?
  • Why are video games so often violent? According to the documentary, first-person shooter games were developed by the military to decrease sensitivity to shooting people.
  • Research shows that strong self-control skills are a better indicator of academic and other success than IQ. We can all “strengthen our self-control muscle” by practicing setting limits on ourselves about phones, television and video games.
  • Family Agreements or Contracts are essential in managing all types of technology with teenagers. Several examples are contracts are available on the Screenagers website.

Should you get a chance to see Screenagers, it is well worth the 68-minute showing time. Even if you don’t, I encourage to go to their website and do your own research about technology’s impact and effects on your kids. You will probably learn something useful for yourself as well.

*Information for this post comes from the Screenagers website and a Parent’s Guide handout I received at the screening.

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