Movie Review: Screenagers - Growing Up in the Digital Age 

“Why don’t you get off your (device) and go outside and play?”

“If you don’t get (chore) done, then you can’t play on your (device).”

“But Mom, I need my (device) to get my homework done.”

"I'm tired of competing with your devices."

"These video games are ruining your brain".

Can you relate?

This is part of the daily struggle in many homes with teens and tweens. Technology has given us the ability to connect, multitask, be productive, be entertained, gain knowledge and more. But how much is too much?

Screen time and the effects of digital media are at the forefront of many people’s minds in today’s culture, and a new film takes the topic head on.

We had the opportunity to screen “Screenagers,” a film produced by Dr. Delaney Ruston that explores how excessive screen time is affecting our kids and today’s families.

A medical doctor from Seattle, WA, and a parent navigating her own journey with her children in the constant struggle over the balance between screen time and real life, Dr. Ruston decided to make Screenagers because “she believes deeply in the importance of helping kids find balance in our tech-filled world.” Her film has been featured at film festivals across the country.

The fact that she’s still figuring out the screen/life balance herself as a parent immediately creates a connection between the film’s parent audience and her “character,” the narrator. In the film, college professors, bloggers, researchers and others weigh in on how overuse is truly damaging this generation. Studies show excessive screen time stunts brain development, creates an inability to focus, and reduces cognitive and communication skills.  

We get a glimpse into the filmmaker’s own life and the lives of everyday people who share personal stories about the impact of technology and screen usage within their homes, and the turbulence it creates. From one girl’s experience of her “bra selfie” gone viral to another boy’s excessive video game playing that landed him in rehab for his “addiction,” something hits home to all of us: this is real. It is what is happening in families, at school, after school and in societies across the world today. The question is, what are we going to do about it?

Experts showcased in the film offer constructive advice to parents about the action that needs to take place within our communities, our classrooms, and most importantly, in our homes. They advise it starts by examining ourselves as parents and our own screen addictions. To shift screen usage to a healthy place and minimize its harmful impact on our personalities and habits, we must realize it truly takes a village, but the first step is at home, empowering our kids.

Our overall takeaway from the movie is the message it drives home about the importance of families establishing rules and boundaries on tech usage in and away from the house. The most significant tip all parents can tackle is teaching children from the start how to self-regulate their screen time.

Here are some other suggestions from Screenagers:

  1. Set up a tech contract for EVERYONE in the family, parents included! Have your kids help set the rules.

  2. Make “screen-free” time. One day a week, certain hours of the day, or even better, set up a tech-free vacation.

  3. Set time limits - give the brain a chance to rest

In an interview with the NY Timesdirector Dr. Delaney Ruston stated, “I want to spark a movement to get everyone, from parents to policymakers, to watch the movie, then have a “town hall” style conversation afterward about how we can best help kids lead more balanced lives.”

Screenagers is a must see for parents and kids. It offers the right combination of relatable characters and light-hearted humor to captivate the audience and allow us to do some silent self-evaluating of our own screen habits. A bit ironic to encourage more screen time, we know, but the film is eye-opening for parents who’ll discover they are not alone in the challenge of raising the first all-digital generation.  

Check out the Screenagers website to see if there’s a screening near you or to inquire about bringing it to your community or school.