Parents Flock to “Screenagers” Presentation at WHS
By Eugenia Moskowitz
About 300 parents and teenagers attended a free showing of the award-winning documentary “Screenagers” presented by the Washingtonville District Social Work Team and the Teacher Center at Washingtonville High School on Nov. 28.
Introduced by high school principal Brian Connolly, the hour-long film got to the heart of the current situation of what Connolly called “kids’ reliance, overuse, and possible addiction to video games and social media.” The key points in the film were presented from both adults’ and teens’ perspectives.
An important and alarming point made in the film was that teenagers’ brains haven’t yet fully developed the neural connections which allow the ability to resist distractions and that unfortunately it’s this ability for self-control which plays the greatest role in predicting success in school and in the full development of a child’s potential. Intelligence is not the top predictor, the film suggested.
For girls, the lure is social media. For boys, it’s video games, or “gaming.”Girls spend countless hours “checking” and “posting” on social media, while boys spend hours in virtual reality worlds, entire universes which are difficult to pull themselves out of. School work, activities, and personal relationships, all vital to development, suffer, sometimes with catastrophic results.
Psychologists and parents in the film spoke of video game addiction which mimics the same dopamine releases in the brain found with drug addiction or behavioral addictions such as gambling. Parents in the film said that when they tried to pull their boys away from gaming, they turned angry and even violent, or as one parent on the film said, “He would turn into another person.” To make matters worse, some of the games are violent, such as Grand Theft Auto and Call of Duty Black Ops, which are said to desensitize young boys to violence.
Educational or creative games that involve strategy, cooperation, and concept-building (such as Minecraft) do not have the same effect on the brain that fast-sequenced video games have, but there is still an addiction to them and children have a hard time turning them off. As one child in the film said, “It pulls you in.”
Perhaps the most frightening element of the film was that there are now rehab centers for gaming addiction, such as the Restart Internet Rehab Center, where people go to detox and get the proper sleep, food, and physical activity they’ve been depriving themselves of. One teenager in the film who went through rehab said he had been spending most of his waking time gaming, and very little time sleeping or eating.
For girls, the lure to social media’s sharing of photographs has an undeniable effect on their body-awareness and body-image. Social media enters a girl’s life at exactly the “tween and teen” time when they are hyper aware of their bodies, how others perceive them, and the effect this has on their mental well-being. What would have been an obsession with pocket-mirrors in the pre-digital era now is amplified with the ability to share photos (or “pics”) at any time, at lightning speed, to a wide audience of people, many unknown, at exactly when a girl’s brain is still not fully developed, often with disastrous results.
Set boundaries, the filmmakers said. Take devices away at a certain time. Create, with your child’s input, a contract for smartphone or video game use. Have “tech talks” to discuss the positive aspects of technology — and there are countless positive effects, the film said. Technology opens worlds, but too much information can overwhelm kids at precisely the time in their lives when they don’t yet know how to discern real from fake information.
After the film was shown, a panel including Dr. Barbara Gannon of Washingtonville Pediatrics, Kimberly Palmer of the Health & Wellness Center, district PTA heads Rachael DeCarvalho and Stacy Mongello, high school English teacher Kevin Calderin, high school guidance counselor Jodi Davis, and high school students Max Kissack and Hayley Knips weighed in on what was presented while Little Britain principal Sagrario Rudecindo-O’Neill moderated.
One panelist said technology’s ability to keep people and relationships connected over physical distances can be great, but it can’t replace the actual physical face-to-face. It can also be time consuming, to which kids and parents agreed they are all guilty of being “sucked away” by their screens and being shocked at how much time just went by. The loss of the ability to track time is a major negative pitfall of screen use for all ages. Multiple screens means it’s also easy to get distracted by “another thing” and to go off on tangents, wasting even more time.
While the positive aspect of the world of information at our fingertips was fully agreed upon, a big danger is that fast-sequenced video images disrupt and inhibit a growing brain’s neurological connections, which then won’t ever develop. (Slow-sequenced or “normal” movies, as well as the regular reading of text on a device, don’t have this effect.) The film said an experiment done with young mice that were shown fast-paced videos revealed that if these brain connections are not made in youth, they can’t ever be made. One teen panelist countered, “But we are not mice.”
To which many parents disagreed.
To learn more, go to http://www.screenagersmovie.com, or like their Facebook page to watch a trailer and find out how to host a screening.
CAPTION: The lunchroom during a typical day at Washingtonville High School, which hosted a showing of “Screenagers” on the evening of Nov. 28 that close to 300 adults and teens attended. (Photos by Eugenia Moskowitz)