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Beline Obeid

Dialing it back

Middle schools present film on growing up in the digital age

Mary Anne Brush Staff Writer

October 12, 2017
According to the Child Mind Institute, teenagers and young adults — ages 16 to 24 — are the most intense users of social media. Social media can be positive if it replaces negative activities or isolation. However, if it replaces face-to-face interaction or exercise, it can impact teens’ self-esteem and overall satisfaction with their lives. A 2017 report links social media use to an increase in mental health problems, including anxiety, depression and suicide ideation.

Images Courtesy of Screenagers
To help families minimize harmful effects of screen time and find balance, the Grosse Pointe Public School System is showing “Screenagers,” a film about the impact of the digital age on children, 6:30 p.m. Tuesday, Oct. 24, in the multipurpose room at Brownell Middle School, 260 Chalfonte, Grosse Pointe Farms.

Superintendent Gary Niehaus will introduce the 70-minute film and social worker Nicole Runyon will facilitate a question-and-answer session after. Tickets are free to parents and community members and can be reserved online at goo.gl/XHBaUZ. A preview of the film is available at that link as well.

Earlier that day, all middle school students in the district will have an opportunity to watch the film, with counselors present to facilitate discussion.

Parcells Middle School counselor Carla Palffy said she and fellow counselors coordinated with all three middle schools to make the film available to not only all middle school students, but their parents as well.

“I think (the film is) going to be really powerful,” Palffy said. “The statistics and the basis for the documentary and what we know is that kids are in front of screens — and when we say screens we mean gaming, cell phones, iPads, not just social media — up to nine hours a day.”

While the district has curbed access to social media sites by limiting the bandwidth in schools, it can’t prevent students with cell phones from tapping into their family’s own data plan, Palffy said. Moreover, students have phones with them to and from school and at lunch and may be allowed to use them in class at the teacher’s discretion.

“Screen time is going to happen and how do we work with that as part of our digital age and at the same time keep a healthy balance?” Palffy said. “It’s a challenge.”

The advantage of showing it to middle school students during the day and parents in the evening is it invites conversation between students and their parents, Palffy said.

“It can be a reference point or maybe just a conversation starter. It can give parents a little more confidence in how they want to approach their screen time at home.”

The hope is students will recognize some of their own behaviors in the film and develop coping strategies. Adults, too, may recognize themselves.

According to an imaging study, the reward centers in teenagers' brains are activated when they view images with a lot of "Likes." The response is strongest when "Likes" are on images posted by the teen. Courtesy photo
“A lot of adults might reflect and see themselves in those situations,” Palffy said. “You’re picking up your kid and you’re on your phone. We model it ourselves as adults. Even leaders, teachers in the building — we have our cell phones in our back pockets. How do we figure out its best use, especially in middle school? That’s why we targeted middle school.”

Palffy said what she liked about the film was it offered concrete solutions for parents. For example, “It’s OK to take their phones away,” she said. “Children should not sleep with their cell phones. You can’t resist a text even if (the phone is) on vibrate and under a pillow. You can’t not respond because someone else is up on a group chat. It sucks you in and that affects your sleep.”

Sleep is “the hidden casualty of the constant social media onslaught,” according to the Child Mind Institute. Teens who spent three or more hours a day on electronic devices were 28 percent more likely to get less than seven hours of sleep and teens who visited social media sites every day were 19 percent more likely not to get adequate sleep.

According to the study, “Lack of sleep can negatively affect teens’ mood, ability to think, to react, to regulate their emotions, to learn and to get along with adults. It’s a vicious cycle — lack of sleep affects mood, and depression can lead to lack of sleep. And multiple studies have found that severe sleep debt is linked to suicidal ideation.”

Runyon, who participated in The Family’s Center’s presentation of “Screenagers” last year, said the film was a good introduction to the emotional issues involved in social media use, such as anxiety, addiction and depression.

“As a parent myself and a psychotherapist for adolescents, I think it’s pretty accurate,” she said.

Prior to seeing the film, Runyon had developed her own research on the subject. Watching “Screenagers” supported her research as well as observations based on her private practice.

“Specifically I was looking at how (social media use) impacts child development,” she said. “What I noticed in my practice was extreme depression, even more than I have seen in my 14 years of practice, in ‘full functioning’ families. Often you look at the families, because often it’s a family dynamic issue. When I looked at families, I wasn’t seeing anything that warranted what these kids were going through.”

The difference, she noted, was “these kids were growing up with screens. What I’ve found was a lot of articles and research on screens because it’s so addictive. It can make you anxious about what’s happening on social media when it’s not around.”

The negative effects of screen use, from cyber bullying to video game addiction, are significant enough the latest edition of the American Psychiatric Association’s Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders has added internet use as a disorder, Runyon said.

Palffy agreed the showing of the film is timely.

“We’re not going to dial back. This is the digital world. Ninety percent of teenagers are using social media for how they communicate and (for) networking, some for good and some for not.”

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