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Teenage Mutant Screenagers


Teenage Mutant Screenagers

Walking through a high school hallway in 2016, you’re likely to encounter a sea of students scuffling along, shoulders hunched, heads down, and thumbs flitting across some kind of cell phone or other device. Before the advent of the smartphone, school hallways were full of students interacting face to face rather than texting and playing digital games. These changes have prompted some alarm among parents and educators, many of whom have raised questions about the effects of rampant technological use on adolescents.

Screenagers: Growing Up in the Digital Age, a new documentary directed by Delaney Ruston, examines how constant technological immersion, or “screen time,” affects both the psychological and emotional development of teens. Ruston, a physician by trade, was compelled to make the film after constant pressure from her 13-year-old daughter for an iPhone. She interviewed psychologists, educators, and experts around the country, and gleaned insight into how rampant smartphone use can affect the brain chemistry of teens.

“Studies indicate there seems to be a release of dopamine—the pleasure-producing chemical—whenever we seek out or find a new bit of information,” says Nicholas Carr, author of The Shallows: What the Internet Is Doing to Our Brains, who is one of the experts featured in the film. This can be staved off by self-control, but research shows “kid’s brains haven’t properly developed to resist the impulse to self--distract.”

Another study cited in the film found that the same was true for PCs: “What we found is that when a computer enters a kid’s home, their test scores in reading and math actually decrease,” says Jacob Vigdor, a professor of public policy at the University of Washington.

Still, all of the news isn’t bad: The film shows that after-school activities—be they academic, athletic, or community-based—help kids put down their devices and focus on the present.

Screenagers is showing in select locations. To organize your own screening, visit screenagersmovie.com.

—Sam Blum

Photo: Stephanie Rausser


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