Thoughtful Parenting: Open dialogue about balancing screen time
“Screenagers” director, Delaney Ruston, was facing a challenge that caught her off-guard — raising teenagers whose attention was increasingly consumed by screen-based activities.
With a 14-year-old son who loved video game time, and a 12-year-old daughter who was lobbying hard for her own smartphone, she encountered frequent battles on both fronts. She would work on being tolerant, then suddenly lose her patience, and then feel guilty for getting mad.
As a physician, she became increasingly anxious to know how our new tech world affects children’s development. She started finding new research on the impact of video gaming and social media on self-esteem, empathy, social skill development, academics and brain development.
As a mom, she wanted to examine how we can better manage screen time in our homes and schools. What does science teach us about teaching self-control? How can we best encourage youth to find their own ways to achieve balance? What limits and rules are reasonable and how do we implement them?
Eventually, given the struggles she was facing at home, along with all the things she was researching, she began work on “Screenagers.” She was completely surprised to learn how hard it would be to capture family and school challenges on film. She had underestimated how private parenting is.
She started to see it in herself, noticing that she was too shy to tell friends her rules, such as the one about prohibiting cellphones in the car. Other friends were embarrassed to tell her they had no rules. And they were all self-conscious about how hard it was to enforce any rules they did have.
Fortunately, she did find incredible families, teachers and children across the U.S. from diverse socio-economic and cultural backgrounds. They shared experiences that are relatable, very personal, but not sensational.
Some of the stories are cautionary tales that give us an encounter with scenarios we hope to avoid by knowing about them in advance, but mostly they inspire empathy, understanding and action.
It became clear that the film needed to be shown in public spaces, to bring together kids, parents, educators, health providers and policy makers for conversations that can lead to change in our homes and communities. And indeed this approach has been incredibly effective.
These public screenings and discussions have been effective for many reasons including the fact that they do the following.
- Reveal the magnitude of the problem. Nearly every family and school faces similar struggles. The next step is to talk openly about solutions. “I didn’t realize other families were sorting out rules too,” my daughter told me after participating in her first post-film discussion.
- Increase understanding of why balance is needed. That gives us the confidence to set appropriate tech limits.
- Inspire communities to work together. Young people and adults can collaborate to better manage screen time in our homes and schools.
Make a date with your family to view this free movieat 6 p.m. Monday, Nov. 6 at Steamboat Springs High School Auditorium.
The movie will have Spanish subtitles as well.
Delaney Ruston is the director of Screenagers.
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Kristina Arielle Calco was 15 when she went into her family’s basement and took her life.