Playtime: April 18 documentary aims to help parents find ‘screen time’ balance for kids

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As technology changes rapidly, so does the parenting experience. My kids are 11 and almost 8 and my sisters’ kids were both born last year. If you go on swaddle blankets, strollers and car seats alone, their experience is already so different than mine. While I feel jealous of the mom in Target who can hand her phone to her kid so they can watch a Paw Patrol while she makes sure she doesn’t buy the “bumpy” bread on accident, I am thankful every single day that I didn’t have to be an adolescent in the world of social media.

As my family moves into the complex, scary but also convenient phase of “a kid with a smart phone,” I was happy to hear about the “Screenagers” screening and Q&A being held at the Verdant Community Wellness Center April 18. Delaney Ruston, a physician and filmmaker, found herself in that constant struggle over screen time with her two kids, which led her to make the film “Screenagers.” Ruston wasn’t sure what limits were best when it came to phones, social media, gaming and online homework, and found out she wasn’t alone in her guilt and confusion on “one of the biggest, unexplored parenting issues of our time.”

The Chromebook I write this column on, just like the ones provided to students at Edmonds School District schools, is connected to a million other things to see, and I have navigated away from this document about a million times since I opened it.

What was my biggest distraction as a kid while doing homework? It was hearing kids playing out on the street followed — and not closely — by a possible leftover cereal box left on the table from breakfast or a cut-out newspaper article under a magnet on the refrigerator. If you wanted to know what your friend was doing, you had to jump through all the parental hoops and then hope and pray they were actually home to receive your call or knock on the door. This is good and bad; I hear my son’s phone buzz during dinner even though it’s in its charging spot, but some of those texts are about the school paper they are working on, which each of them can access via a shared Google Doc.

Before we talk about statistics and the concerns “Screenagers” addresses, let’s first talk about what the definition of screen time is. The American Academy of Pediatrics doesn’t count online homework as screen time. Instead, it is the time spent using all the different kinds of digital media for entertainment purposes that starts the tally. While they used to have a “blanket statement” of a two-hour limit, their latest recommendations for kids ages 6 and older is to “place consistent limits on the time spent using media, and the types of media, and make sure media does not take the place of adequate sleep, physical activity and other behaviors essential to health.”

Now that is it in stark contrast to the statistics about kids and their actual time in front of a screen. Not including screens in the classroom or used for homework, kids spend on average of 6.5 hours a day on screens which, recent studies have shown, increases dopamine production and causes behavior that mimics addiction. When it comes to video games, on average, boys play the equivalent of 1.5 days per week.

While we work to be mindful about screen time after seeing worrisome behaviors associated with too much of it, the scariest part for me is the access and interactions these devices bring. Most recently, we’ve made amendments to the game “Roblox” after reports of predatory behavior in the chat function had been reported, although many fellow exasperated parents deleted the game altogether. These kinds of “messy struggles” are what the director turned her camera toward, even in her own family. Ruston shares stories regarding social media, video games, academics and Internet addiction — from a 14-year-old victim of social media bullying, which we’ve seen in news reports leading to suicide, to a straight A student landing in an Internet rehab center after he finds himself addicted to video games once in college.

Beyond the personal stories of how access and time spent looking at a screen is affecting children, “Screenagers” also covers “cutting edge science and insights” on real changes happening in the brain. It also offers “multiple approaches on how parents and educators can work with kids to find a balance when it comes to screen time.”

The Verdant Health Commission has partnered with Compass Health to host a FREE viewing of “Screenagers” Tuesday, April 18 at the Verdant Community Wellness Center, 4710 196th St. S.W., across from Fred Meyer. Those over the age of 10 are welcome to attend with an adult and the screening will be followed by a Q&A discussion with local physician and licensed mental health counselor Ann Steel, MD, LMHC, who specializes in technology dependence and the effects it has on children. You can find more information on the screening on the event’s Facebook page or by calling 425-582-8600.

— By Jennifer Marx

Jen Marx

Jen Marx, a mom of two young boys, is always looking for a fun place to take the kids that makes them tired enough to go to bed on time. You can find her on Twitter trying to make sense of begging kids to ” just eat the mac n cheese” @jen_marx.

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