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Thu, March 21

Screenagers: Ups, downs of the digital age for today’s youth

Jennifer Jacobson is no stranger to the temptation of today’s digital technology.

The mother of three and Yavapai College sociology instructor admits she has been known to sneak peeks at her laptop computer or Smartphone when she should to be paying attention to something else. Her children sometimes complain about the time she spends after class hours answering or sending email correspondence.

So she is not unsympathetic to students who initially object to her tech-free classroom. Nor is she ignorant about her children’s fascination with the latest and greatest digital phenomenon.

Jacobson was one of four invited panelists to discuss the screening of the independent film, “Screenagers – Growing Up in a Digital Age,” which debuted at the Prescott Mile High Middle School on Friday, Feb. 17.

The screening, organized by the Launch Pad Teen Center, the Prescott Unified School District Family Resource Center and the Granite Mountain Psychology Society was attended by some 100 parents, teens, educators and other professionals.

The film written, directed and produced by a physician and mother, Delaney Ruston, revolves around buying a Smartphone for her teenage daughter. She explores the science and emotions connected to what is and is not appropriate technology to have in the family home. She, too, wrestles with what is proper use and how best to monitor it.

And it’s not an easy dialogue.

The film accurately captures teen eye rolls and sighs so familiar to most parents, particularly when they try and reason with adolescents about rules for use of computers and cellphones. At one point, Ruston asks her daughter why she must have an iPhone. The answer: because all her friends have one. DUH!!!

“Screenagers” explores adolescent brain growth and how technology can influence young minds as well as the emotional power these devices can have over teens and their families. Reliance on digital technology can diminish a person’s empathy and can erode one’s self-esteem.

Are video games a harmless pastime, or do they lead to aberrant behavior? Is hand doodling the same as scrolling through Facebook? Is reliance on social media and digital devices unraveling communication?

Throughout the film, Ruston offers a blend of science and personal thought on how best to navigate the realities of the digital world. In the end, the prominent theme becomes moderation, parental guidance, and modeling of appropriate use.

“Adults must set limits that kids cannot set for themselves,” Ruston suggests.

The provocative film showcases realities good and bad, of what is a new world that young people and adults alike are learning how to navigate, said Mardi Read, assistant superintendent of Prescott Unified School District.

“Screen time is a new concept for all of us,” Read said.

She appreciated the film and panel talk afterward, she said, as it focused on “doing what’s best for kids.”

Schools are utilizing computers and digital technology as a learning tool, Read added.

The film concurs that there is a big difference between technology guided by educators and unsupervised use, she said.

“We use these devices as tools in school, and they can be very helpful,” Read said, “but there needs to be serious limits on free time use of devices.”

Launch Pad Teen Center Executive Director Courtney Osterfelt said her agency strives to engage teens in activities that do not revolve around video games, Instagram, Facebook and other social media. Teens often rely on social media to feel connected to their peers, and are deflated when that connection ends up to be “an empty promise,” she said.

The center encourages its teen members to engage in one-on-one communication rather than texts and email conversation, Osterfelt said. Yet, staff recognize the need for balance between the two worlds, she added.

In a conversation with some of her students, Jacobson asked their advice to parents. Their suggestion: less monitoring and blocking of websites and more conversation between teens and parents that builds respect and cooperation so teenagers reach their own conclusions on what is and is not acceptable.

What started as an experiment in 2014 is now Jacobson’s classroom policy. Students have adapted, though she admits they don’t necessarily like it.

In her home, Jacobson said tech free zones are a work in progress. She accepts digital devices are part of their life; she doesn’t want them to dictate their lifestyle.

“No TV, or dinging cellphones, at the dinner table,” Jacobson said.

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