Schools tackle screen time

There’s been enough research and scientific study about the impact of screen technology on kids to concern parents— and to prompt schools to consider how to address the issue as well. And for many independent schools, hosting a screening of Screenagers: Growing Up in the Digital Age on their campuses has been part of that discussion.

In the documentary, released in January 2016, director Delaney Ruston, a physician, filmmaker, and mom of two, turns the camera on her own family, as well as others, to reveal struggles over social media, video games, academics, and internet addiction. Interwoven into these stories are cutting-edge science and insights from thought leaders such as Peggy Orenstein, Sherry Turkle, and Simon Sinek, as well as leading brain scientists who present evidence on real changes happening in the brain. Screenagers exposes the risks of screen time and also reveals approaches for how parents and educators can help kids achieve a healthy amount of screen time.

This solution-oriented approach is in part why Brentwood Academy (Tennessee) chose to show the film on its campus. “We heard about it from a parent who was familiar with the documentary,” says Jeanne Natwick, marketing manager at Brentwood. “The amount of screen time is of great concern to every parent, and we know that they are looking for ideas and direction on how to make changes.”

The March 2016 screening at Brentwood drew close to 700 attendees, including parents, students, teachers, and others in the community. The event opened with an introduction of the executive producers Lisa Tabb and Karin Gornick, followed by a viewing and a panel discussion that included Brentwood’s resident tech expert, Warren Bezuidenhout.

Mark Day School (California) also screened the film but took it a step further. “The producers of the film are local— in Marin County — so we heard about the film early on,” says Bonnie Nishihara, the school’s assistant head for educational design and innovation. “We were interested in it right away. The topic resonates with many of the issues we are trying to address in our school — digital citizenship, technology use, helping parents navigate the social-emotional angles.”

The school offered two initial screenings in May, an evening showing and another the next morning to provide maximum opportunity for parents and other community members to attend. The event was so successful that the school offered a third screening the following week.

In advance of the screenings, school administrators adapted a survey from Common Sense Media and distributed it to students in the fifth grade and up. The survey asked students questions about their digital media habits and attitudes, and the results were used as part of a presentation at the screening events, which also included Q&A sessions with one of the film’s producers as well as Dana Blum of Common Sense Media. The survey results presentation was also included in a weekly email newsletter for parents.

Nisihara says the events were incredibly well received. “In addition to the film, sharing our survey results was especially eye-opening for parents. The answers to some of the survey’s open-ended questions such as ‘How can your parents help you?’ really hit home,” she says. “Some kids expressed feeling that their parents are over-managing them while others said they could use a little more guidance from their parents.”

The film also resonated with teachers, in particular seventh- and eighth-grade math teachers, who screened the film as part of a project-based unit this past fall.

In all, the film has been shown at more than 100 independent schools around the country, with more lined up for screenings in 2017. For more information about the documentary, including a list of schools that are planning to show the film, go to screenagersmovie.com.