Arts & Culture

‘Screenagers’ looks at teens’ tech habits

By Hannah Scott, Local Journalism Initiative reporter

Published 11:01 PST, Tue January 14, 2020

Last Updated: 11:51 PST, Wed January 29, 2020

Does social media and screen use really affect teens’ mental and emotional well-being? And, if so, how can parents and teachers help ease the stress?

As a filmmaker, physician, and parent of two teens, Delaney Ruston knows these issues well. They also provide the subject matter for her documentary, Screenagers NEXT CHAPTER: Uncovering Skills for Stress Resilience. 

A sequel to her 2016 film, Ruston’s second movie delves deeper into how teens can build tech knowledge to use these tools to benefit rather than harm them.

Anne Chen is the immediate past-president of the Richmond District Parents Association. She sheds some light on Richmond parents’ efforts to help their teens learn healthy tech habits.

“Kids today face the challenge of processing and filtering a lot of information that is coming at them so quickly, both good and bad.  Socially, emotionally and mentally, they are learning to deal with the impact of what they are seeing and how to respond,” says Chen.

She adds that the main challenges are defining appropriate tech use, helping teens understand that their social media activity may have unintended ramifications, and regulating use of tech where possible.

“For some (kids), they are having a hard time differentiating what is ‘real’ and what isn’t. ‘Friends’ on their platform may not actually be true friends,” Chen cautions. 

It is easy to become hyper-focused on social media ‘likes’ and appearance versus reality. “So much information is coming at kids through screens that emotionally, it becomes challenging for some kids to deal with it,” says Chen.

For parents, it may help to have rules surrounding at-home tech use. These could include charging phones outside bedrooms overnight, setting time limits or curfews, and banning phone use during dinner, says Chen. 

“If this isn’t done early, it becomes a lot more of a challenge as the kids get older.”

Limiting tech use becomes more challenging if friends have different rules, Chen points out. When parents ban certain video games, for example, preteens and teens are even more tempted to play these games at friends’ houses where they are allowed. The challenge, Chen explains, lies in parents’ desire to “keep up and stay current” while sticking to individually chosen rules.

“Overall, parents are finding it a challenge to carve out time and start a conversation to ask what is the latest trend or feel that it is “too late” to start the discussion because they feel already disconnected with their teenager,” says Chen. 

How can schools and parents combat the fast-moving tech industry? “Schools need to start talking about the use of technology as early as primary grades in elementary school and constantly reminding kids all the way into high school because it is ever evolving,” says Chen. 

She also recommends frequent discussions about the dangers of online privacy and cyberbullying. 

What rules does Chen enforce for her own kids? No devices at the dinner table, she says. 

“I am also a firm believer in teaching them to regulate their time and tech use. As long as the tech is used properly (i.e., homework, research, connecting with friends) and not misused (i.e., texting with friends late at night or tech interfering with academics, sports, eating or sleeping properly), I’m okay with it.”

While tech can certainly be a distraction to preteens and teens, there are solutions to be found. Firm but fair rules can help, as well as talking to kids to understand the realities and expectations of their tech use. 

Films like Ruston’s Screenagers can also shed light on the challenges kids—and their parents—face when it comes to screen interactions.

Richmond District Parents Association’s screening of Screenagers NEXT CHAPTER is now sold out, but there are other local screenings happening in the coming months. Groups can also host screenings of either Screenagers movie through a form on the website.

For more information on local screenings, check out https://www.screenagersmovie.com/

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