It’s a common sight – teens, and even younger children, with their heads down, gazes fixed on the screens of their cell phones. A recent study by San Francisco-based Common Sense Media found that teens average more than 6½ hours a day on screens, and 8- to 12-year-olds aren’t far behind at 4½ hours a day.
A new documentary examines the impact of all this screen time and what parents should be doing about it. Filmmaker and Stanford-trained physician Delaney Ruston weaves her struggles with her own children’s screen time – and her 12-year-old’s desire for a smartphone – with expert interviews and cautionary tales in Screenagers.
The film explores the distracting and addictive qualities and potential pitfalls of video games and social media with stories like that of an A student who dropped out of college and ended up in an Internet rehab program due to gaming and a middle school girl who finds herself the focus of cyber-bullying after texting a photo of herself in a bra to a boy she likes.
Screenagers is being distributed through schools, community groups and businesses that can screen it for a $500 fee and use it as a fundraiser.
Lisa Tabb, a Fairfax mom with children ages 12 and 16 and part-time producer at ABC 7 News, co-produced the film with Karin Gornick of San Anselmo and New York-based Ruston, with whom she attended middle and high school in Berkeley. Tabb originally turned down the project, but realized its importance when she started facing some of the same issues with her own children. She spoke with Bay Area Parent about the film. For more information, visit
Why did you want to make this film?
It almost feels like a crescendo right now in terms of people looking for solutions. It seems a little bit out of control. Parents feel paralyzed and are looking for ways to help their kids find balance. That’s really what the film is about.
Who is the audience?
Parents and kids. We love it when parents and kids come together. We’ve had some amazing conversations with people afterward about what their kids are saying. A PTA head in Mill Valley said she watched it with her son … and he said, “I want to go off video games for a week.” A mother, whose daughter went without her, said she came home and said, “I want you to put some controls on my social media.”
What’s your hope for the movie?
The hope is that it opens a dialogue in our community about creating balance and a dialogue between parents and kids and having them put in place some solutions to the potential obsession that goes along with all of it. We are not advocates of no technology. We think that’s an unreasonable request and not a solution. … But this is a mental health issue that we all need to be looking at. … Kids go to each other’s houses and we know parents won’t give them alcohol or a joint. But we don’t have a community consensus on how screen time is affecting our kids and what we want to do about it.
What are some solutions?
There’s a big part in the movie about creating contracts with your child, and we have examples on our website. It’s also important to keep your kids engaged in after-school activities. The truth is that downtime turns into screen-time these days.
Modeling is also a big part of this. Look at your phone and see which app you use the most and try to take that app off for one day. … For me, that would be my email app. It becomes an addiction and distraction with my children. It’s hard to model good behavior when I’m constantly looking at that for work.
Janine DeFao is an associate editor at Bay Area Parent.
Watch the trailer here:


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