How much is too much? According to Common Sense Media’s “The Common Sense Census: Media Use by Tweens and Teens,” American teenagers spend an average of nine hours every day on various devices with screens, not including school or homework time. For parents today, most of whom did not grow up with high accessibility to digital technologies, it can be a struggle to figure out how to place reasonable boundaries on their children’s screen time. Sometimes it can seem like a constant struggle of the parent versus the child.
The Steward School seeks to contribute to the discussion with a screening of “Screenagers.” A 68-minute documentary directed by Delaney Ruston, M.D., the film explores the issues that arise for kids growing up in the digital age and how to minimize harmful affects from too much screen time and find a healthy balance. Not only will the school screen the film for their students in grades 5 through 8 during the school day, they’re also hosting a free screening for the entire community Sept. 19 at 7 p.m. in the Lora M. Robins Theatre on campus.
Director of The Steward School’s Middle School, Susan Atkinson says of the public screening, “I think everyone in the community is struggling with this issue … especially adolescents, because they don’t typically understand the cause and effect of their digital use, and this film helps in opening everyone’s eyes about this issue.”
The director of “Screenagers” created the documentary after observing the amount of screen time her own children were exposed to and the friction that arose from trying to set limits. In her own research, Ruston found that the average youth will spend six and a half hours per day on digital devices. The film explores her own struggles with the subject, along with insights from other experts including authors, psychologists and brain scientists. Ruston also addresses the impact technology use can have on children’s development, but offers methods adults can use to guide teens to create their own healthy balance of screen time in an age where screens are virtually unavoidable.
Atkinson says the school chose to screen the film after a parent brought the documentary to her attention. She notes that this is a topic all parents have to address today, adding that The Steward School works to educate the whole child, and this documentary is just one tool to assist with that.
“I think [the issue has] been well-documented,” Atkinson says. “It’s an ongoing issue, and we need to figure it out. [People today] are saying that we understand the value of technology, but I think it’s everything in moderation … [students] need to be able to collaborate, innovate and communicate both using technology and without it.”
Atkinson notes that technology use in a household needs to be an open discussion between both the parent and child in order to avoid friction like the director herself faces in the documentary. She says parents should be mindful of what kids face in a digital environment. “It’s a difficult time for middle-schoolers in this day in age, and there needs to be an ongoing conversation about what works and what doesn’t.”
“Screenagers” will be shown Sept. 19 at 7 p.m. in The Steward School’s Lora M. Robins Theatre, 11600 Gayton Road. The event is free to attend, but online registration at stewardschool.org is requested to ensure a seat. Participants are also encouraged to download the online parent’s discussion guide and/or educator’s discussion guide in advance of the screening.