Documentary highlights addictive nature of electronic devices

by Moira Cullings
moira.cullings@theleaven.org

ROELAND PARK — Digital media does more than provide entertainment.

It transports people into another world.

But do we understand this world of technology, or the dangers that come with it?

To demonstrate the harmful effects screens can have, the St. Agnes School Dads Club hosted a viewing of the documentary “Screenagers” at Bishop Miege High School in Roeland Park Nov. 29.

“The goal was to show them how addictive technology can be and, in particular, the different social media sites that are out there,” said Joe Schramp, acting principal of Miege and a member of the Dads Club.

Children ranging from about 9 years old to seniors in high school attended the event, along with their parents.

An eye opener

For people of all ages who attended the viewing, “Screenagers” was astonishing.

“It was pretty powerful,” said Schramp. “You hear about [the influence of technology] all the time, but when you’re watching it, you see the addictive nature of social media and technology and the impact it has on kids.”

In the documentary, filmmaker Delaney Ruston talks with children and their parents about screen time and the ways it impacts their relationships and education.

Ruston also looks at the impact that the constant consumption of fast-paced media feeds has on young people whose brains are still developing.

Daniel Stroade, a sophomore at Miege, found the documentary both important and relatable for someone his age.

“I really liked ‘Screenagers’ because it is a very big problem in my generation of how much screen time we have every day,” he said.

“Even though electronics are for us to be able to reach out to the world and use as a tool, [when] we use it the wrong way, it makes us lose contact to the real world,” he added.

Sean McCauley, president of the Dads Club, was eager also to show parents the film so they understand how their children are feeling.

“We hoped that the movie would provide parents with the necessary information to make informed choices about parenting in the digital age,” he said.

A world for all ages

Parenting during the digital age comes with a set of unique challenges and arguments, which is why many brought their children to “Screenagers.”

Among the viewing’s attendees was McCauley’s oldest daughter Maggie, who is in fifth grade.

“She, like most kids, enjoys playing on her iPad and using electronic devices,” said McCauley. “But she also picked up on some of the problems that occur because of their overuse.”

“She may not want to admit that because it will lead to us parents limiting her use,” he continued, “but I think the message hit home.”

Limiting screen time is a relatable challenge many parents face.

Schramp sets his children’s usage time at 15-20 minutes a day but, like most children, his tend to be pulled in by screens and the instant gratification they provide.

Even his 3-year-old son Ruben is intrigued by the devices.

“There is a power that device has on them,” he said. “For me, it was probably TV at that age, watching cartoons.

“For them, it seems to be the iPad or the cellphones.”

But, according to the documentary, what might seem like an inevitable upgrade in entertainment might actually be affecting children’s brains more than people realize.

“Screenagers” discusses a study that tested children’s cognitive ability after they had watched a rapidly sequenced program, watched a slowly sequenced program, or played with crayons.

The children who watched the rapidly paced program performed worse than the other two groups, leading researchers to believe overstimulation tires the brain and harms its function.

“The movie made me more nervous about the statistics regarding screen time and brain activity and the addiction that children and adults can develop from games, texting and videos,” said Jenny Hughes.

Hughes brought her three children, all students at St. Agnes, to the screening.

“I’m mostly concerned about social media and the way in which our kids’ lives can be recorded at all moments,” said Hughes.

“I’m hopeful that my children are responsible when they are older and are on social media,” she added.

Coming to a classroom near you

One of the more surprising topics discussed during “Screenagers” is technology use during class time.

Ruston looks at schools that now allow students to use their phones during class without punishment.

As an acting principal, Schramp is baffled by this.

“Some of the other schools [in the Kansas City area] say that every kid in the class is on their cellphone,” said Schramp. “There’s no learning going on.”

Schramp said parents of students who transfer to Miege are relieved to find out the school doesn’t allow students to use phones during school hours.

“With their addictions of being on social media or [other] technology all the time,” he said, “they’re less inclined to behave in a classroom setting and to be able to focus for a long period of time on studies.”

But even outside the classroom, young people are surrounded by both peers and parents constantly checking their devices.

“I have seen many times when people have been distracted by phones and other devices, even when we are with other people,” said Stroade.

The young people in the documentary felt frustrated with this aspect of screens, and often used the word “addicting” when describing their technological devices.

For McCauley, that wasn’t a surprise.

“I see it in many ways with my own children’s usage,” he said.

“Though technology has made substantial advances since I was a kid of the 1980s, the lessons are still the same,” he continued. “Too much of anything can be a serious problem.”

That problem increases when kids get older and are expected to keep up with social media accounts.

Not only does social media create constant pressure to look good and post regularly, but it often leads to bullying as well.

“The stories about the kids being bullied via social media and text messages were troublesome,” said Hughes.

“I’m thankful to be raising my children in a community like St. Agnes where this behavior is not tolerated among parents and teachers,” she said.

Part of the problem

Another issue the film discusses is how parents’ screen use impacts their children.

“[As] parents, we have our addictions as well,” said Schramp.

“Parents who are constantly on [their phones] are not taking the time sometimes to parent their children,” he continued. “Parents are just as guilty.”

After watching “Screenagers,” Schramp has become more aware of the overuse of cellphones and other devices among his peers.

“I recognize now I have a lot of peer friends who are just as guilty, and they can’t really [discipline] their kids when they’re doing the same thing,” he said.

Many parents who attended the viewing were inspired to take action and change both their own and their children’s habits.

Schramp got an email shortly after the event from a few parents of kindergarten students, which he assumes resulted in part because of the film.

“The parents were asking parents within the class to sign a petition to . . . not allow our children to have access to a cellphone personally until eighth grade,” he said, “which I thought was very powerful.”

The goal is that other students wouldn’t feel pressure to get one just because everyone else in the class has one as they go through their grade school years.

Hughes also walked away more motivated to keep her family’s screen time in check.

“Moving forward with a child entering high school, I will continue to have a lot of conversations with my kids about social media and responsible online posting and interaction,” she said.

When it comes to advice for parents who haven’t seen the film, McCauley mentioned there is no instruction book.

“But the best thing I could offer would be to pay attention,” he said. “The warning signs normally are there and, for some, seem obvious. But they can go overlooked for a variety of reasons.

“The question is: Can you be honest with yourself as a parent and recognize that something needs to change?”

For more information on “Screenagers,” visit the website.

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