Thought-provoking for Students and Parents Alike!

Screenagers_4x6_RG ArticleBy Reed Gabhart, Head of Goshen Campus

This week on the Goshen Campus we showed the recent documentary, Screenagers: Growing Up in the Digital Age, to both our Middle School student body and to interested parents in an evening showing on Tuesday. Screenagers: Growing Up in the Digital Age takes a hard look at the deleterious effects of ever increasing screen time via cell phones, tablets, and computer screens among our youth. It was appropriate for kids and adults both – although the two groups may have widely divergent views on the film’s themes!

Here are some of the salient points and memorable quotes I took away:

  • Searching for information and stimuli via electronic devices satisfies basic human instincts and, in fact, produces dopamine and pleasure.
  • When asked how they feel about their cell phones, many teens used the word “addicted” without any sense of shame.
  • Multi-tasking via multiple screens may appear more productive, but studies have shown that it actually reduces one’s productivity.
  • Using cell phones during class reduces students’ comprehension of classroom material. In fact, if two students are sitting next to one another and one has a phone out, it reduces both of their comprehension levels. This is contrasted with doodling, which actually increases concentration for some students. They are engaged with what is going on, whereas with cell phone usage, students are “elsewhere.”
  • Teenage boys are currently averaging 11.3 hours per week locked onto screens outside of their time in school. In many cases, most of these hours are spent on video games, and those are often of a violent nature. These type of video games usually produce a decrease in one’s ability to have empathy and instead increase aggressive thoughts.  
  • Teen (and pre-teen) age girls, conversely, frequently use their cell phones to post photos on social media, and often these are pictures of themselves attempting to “pose” as they see adult women portrayed in the media.
  • Schools tend to have one of three responses to cell phone usage: an outright ban on them; the “anything goes/Wild West” approach; or something in the middle. The last approach attempts to teach kids about how best to use this technology as they will use it in their adult and work lives. While we don’t allow cell phones to be out and used in general on the Goshen Campus, this is more in line with our current practice. Teachers determine when they are appropriate educationally in their classrooms.

So what to make of all this? While students may think we show them films like this to drive home the point that “cell phones are bad” or harmful, that is certainly not our intention. We had our kids discuss the movie in their advisory groups afterwards and the discussions were lively. Shelly Jones led a summary of those conversations at Morning Meeting on Wednesday and many of the kids clearly understood that we are in partnership with them in trying to find the proper balance of healthy technology usage in their lives.

The parent discussion after the adult screening was also very engaging. Here are some of the takeaways from that discussion:

  • Limit-setting regarding screen time in the home is perfectly acceptable. Kids need to have limits and know that other families are doing the same thing. Firmness in this area is essential by the parents. Many families collect screens at a certain time every night.
  • Some families even provide their kids with cell phone “contracts” upon receiving them, defining parameters around their usage.
  • Kids need to be taught that time away from screens is critical and real! Learning how to maintain eye contact and have two-way conversations is a skill that humans will always need. (As one expert said, “No business contract is ever sealed over a teleconference. The business trip will never go away.”)
  • Participating in extracurricular activities and other healthy alternatives to excessive screen usage is more positive for kids.
  • Consider alternatives to constant technology usage such as “a no-screens carpool time” or “tech-free Tuesdays”.
  • Talk to your kids about screen usage. Having an honest exchange and explaining your reasoning is better than simply issuing edicts.

There are no easy answers. But one thing is for sure – this topic is not going away. The best thing we can do is help  educate our kids and stay engaged with them on this topic. And thoughtful movies like Screenagers: Growing Up in the Digital Age are a step in the right direction.

I also want to take a moment to thank all of you for your kind words of support in regards to my recent trip to Japan to run the Tokyo Marathon. I could feel the support of the whole SFS family and it helped tremendously when the going got tough. I feel blessed as always to be a part of this special community!