My Low-down on Screenagers

Monday night’s screening of the documentary ‘Screenagers’ was a huge success for Sydneymum. We thank all you who joined us and hope you enjoyed the evening as much as we did. It was a lovely opportunity for Sharon and I to meet some of you, our readership, and get some feedback on other ideas for future Sydneymum events.

‘Screenagers’, what was it all about? As the title says it was a documentary that ‘probes into the vulnerable corners of family life, including the director’s own, and depicts messy struggles, over social media, video games, academics, and internet addiction.’ It showcased the daily conversations, habits, and behaviours between parents and kids when it comes to the digital world.

American physician, Delaney Ruston is the filmmaker, Stanford trained and mother of two. She invites us into her family to see everyday interactions with her children (a daughter, 12 and a son,15) about mobile phones and gaming usage. The conversations all gravitate, around her children and others, justification of their use of technology – to be cool, to relate to friends, to feel included, to have some ‘downtime’ from their stresses of life, to share experiences – we were exposed to these and more through candid interviews with kids and with parents alike.

What did I take away from the documentary? Well I was taking notes in semi-darkness which are proving to be a little hard to read : ) but a few points did resonate with me:

Screen addiction does exist and is a reality for kids and parents. Like any other addiction (drugs, alcohol, gambling …), it presents itself the same way by creating the same endorphins and wanting more. A clinical definition of addiction is

  1. Negative consequences: problems with relationships, work, school, and more
  2. Tolerance: wanting to engage with the substance more and more to get the same effect
  3. Withdrawal: feelings of anxiousness, physical symptoms and more when away from it
  4. Unable to stop: Serious difficulties with trying to cut down or stop.

Social media is the preferred tool of communication among girls in general (versus gaming for boys). The film brought to the fore the importance girls place on social media outlets like Instagram and Snapchat – the number of likes, selfies, comments, type of comments and photoshopping are all at the top of their mindset. It seems girls place more emphasis on looks and beauty in what they share with their friends. Boys, however, are happier in the gaming world where interactive play can cross physical and geographical boundaries to create relationships and a sense of community. They seem not to concern themselves with the superficial layers.

The phenomena of ‘overscheduling’ kids is actually outdated. Parents seem so preoccupied with not ‘overscheduling’ their children’s lives, they ‘under-schedule’ them. Which in turn, can lead to kids being less active outside of school hours and more time at home in front of screens leading to underperforming academically. This particularly resonates with families from lower socio-economic backgrounds.

Given the young brain is continually developing in response to both genes and environment, it is subject to massive changes in neuron development and pathways. The film presented some solutions to the issue of kids and screen time including:

  • Developing a child’s self-control and self-awareness – the capacity to self-regulate, to resist distractions, to handle emotions and impulses. If a child can learn to do this, it can influence and help with their attitude and behaviours towards devices as they get older.
  • Pro-social games – these are games encouraging gamers to help others and do something positive with their avatars. They are games designed as alternatives to ones that are violent and have the potential to lead to aggressive behaviour (although this is still debated in certain circles). Examples include Animal Crossing, Minecraft, Portal, and Gone Home.
  • Screen time contracts – creating family agreements to include boundaries and rules, goal setting, family values and usage limits.
  • Develop a good sense of digital citizenship in children teaching them how to act in the digital world and how they can use technology responsibly discussed at school and reinforced at home.

Certainly, all the above makes for interesting discussions and thoughts yet throughout the film, experts made clear the importance of creating boundaries and rules and love are paramount.Parents must lead by example – practice what they preach. As adults our brains are not geared naturally to multitask. If I am looking at my phone while talking to my kids, chances are I am not focusing on what they are telling me. Kids need to feel loved and safe but they also need rules and limitations. If they know what they can and can’t do and feel they can openly communicate with their parents, the journey of a ‘screenager’ can be made less bumpy.

Link for resources

PDF Brain Development in Children

We always welcome comments

Author: Emma McEnery

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