screen time
  • Are you engaged in daily struggles with your tween or teen about their use of screens?
  • Do you feel out of control when it comes to the online content your middle schooler is consuming?
  • Are you conflicted about other people’s screen rules when your child is on playdates?

There is no doubt that we have entered a whole new world where smartphones and access to the internet are everywhere, which makes parenting more challenging than it’s ever been. You are not alone. As a team of educators, we hear from parents every day about their screen time concerns. The research has certainly begun on the impact of so much access, but there is no rule book we can follow to be assured of best outcomes. We are mostly on our own to figure it out for each of our children.

A physician and filmmaker, Delaney Ruston, was struggling with these same issues and made a 2016 documentary called Screenagers: Growing Up in the Digital Age. It has been widely shown across the US in schools and other public places to generate open dialogue between parents, children, educators, and health care professionals. Ruston’s approach acknowledges the many benefits of technology while pointing out the downsides of too much access before children are developmentally ready. The filmmaker brings you into her personal life with her own teens, so you are likely to see some familiar struggles depicted in the family scenes. The extremes are also represented in the movie. Whether you like Screenagers or not, you will undoubtedly walk away with a lot to talk about with your middle schooler. To find a showing near you or to host a screening, go to www.screenagersmovie.com.

If seeing the movie just isn’t in the cards for you right now, you might want to check out Ruston’s weekly blog, Tech Talk Tuesday. It is intended to keep open conversations going between parents and kids about social media consumption and digital habits. Each week, she writes about a screen-related topic and ends with questions to discuss as a family. Her goal is not to vilify screen use but to celebrate the benefits while providing insights to help parents set helpful boundaries. She encourages thoughtful input from teens to be part of family solutions.

One more noteworthy spin off from the Screenagers documentary is a growing movement in middle schools called Away for the Day. There is compelling research provided on the website, www.awayfortheday.org, that students are more distracted by the mere presence of a smartphone, even if it is turned off. It actually takes mental energy to NOT check it! The Away for the Day effort is focused on getting middle schools to adopt a policy requiring silenced smartphones to be in lockers during school hours. You might ask your son or daughter if they know what the current policy is at their school since this is not yet widespread. The website provides tools for concerned parents to take action if your school has no such policy.

As educators and parents, we understand the struggle. The digital age is here to stay, and we are feeling our way through the changes right along with you. It is most important for you to be informed and to engage in regular conversations with your children on this topic. It is challenging, to be sure, but hopefully both parties will learn from each other along the way.

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Written by Rebecca Besthoff
Rebecca Besthoff is a member of College Coach’s team of college admissions experts. Prior to joining College Coach, Rebecca worked in admissions at Harvard University, Cornell University, Bowdoin College, and Barnard College.