We all see it, every day. Kids, teens, parents – scrolling and staring at their small, handheld devices everywhere including in waiting rooms, in the bleachers at sporting events and on public transportation.
Dr. Delaney Ruston struggled with the screen obsession in her family. She has two children, Tessa and Chase, and she was sick of seeing them constantly staring at their screens.
Inspiration for the Documentary Screenagers
Dr. Ruston, a seasoned documentary filmmaker, understands the struggle many American families face. Children stay glued to their screens. It’s not just smartphones; it’s also laptops, tablets and video games.
In her efforts to remove her kids from technology, she started working on Screenagers three years ago. This documentary focuses on what drives teenagers interest to the screens and how American families can reduce that time to focus it on other activities.
During a scene in the film, Dr. Ruston asks her daughter Tessa what she would do if she had a smartphone. Tessa replied, “I’d be cool … and be able to look busy in awkward situations.”
This response is enlightening and links to deeper research about devices and social status.
Screenagers Filled with Expert Research
“When you are distracted by a device, you can’t have the conversations that would lead to the development of empathy and a sense of self,” Sherry Turkle, a professor of psychology at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, said in the film.
Device obsession is a major problem for social development in young people. The over usage of technology leads to a focus on digital conversations, which children (and many older Americans) prefer over face-to-face conversations.
According to data collected by the International Smartphone Mobility Report, Americans spend an average of 26 minutes texting each day and only six minutes talking on their phones.
In the film, Nicholas Carr, author of “The Shallows: What the Internet is Doing to Our Brains,” said that dopamine releases in the brain, increasing pleasure-producing chemicals when individuals find new information on their devices.
“If you carry around a smartphone, you are always pulling it out and glancing at it because you want that release of the pleasure-producing chemical,” he added.
That release of dopamine leads to increased device usage. For children, it equates to about six and a half hours of screen-time per day, according to the flick. This doesn’t include the screen time needed for school or homework.
Dr. Ruston Combats Device Usage in Screenagers
“We don’t have cell phones in our bedrooms at night. Not at the dining room table. And also when we are in the car,” Dr. Ruston told ABC News.
Dr. Ruston set strict device boundaries by establishing a contract that sets governance for the entire family.
She said it’s “still a struggle at times,” but, “Now we feel like a group that is doing this together. And that’s been really helpful.”
About the Screenagers Filmmaker
Dr. Delaney Ruston’s filmmaking experience dates back 17 years. Her work includes Unlisted: A Story of Schizophrenia (2010) and Hidden Pictures: A Personal Journey into Global Mental Health (2013).
She’s worked on many short films during her years in the film industry and recently completed her Fulbright Fellowship in India.
Screenagers is Dr. Ruston’s latest project.
In addition to making films, Dr. Ruston is a primary care physician and provides healthcare to Seattle citizens living beneath the poverty line.