Teenagers or Screenagers?

by Maria Hosler Byler, Associate Pastor for Youth and Family Faith Formation at Salford Mennonite Church  

On November 25th, 120 people gathered in Salford Mennonite Church’s sanctuary to view Screenagers, a film about teenagers and technology use. Some who walked in the doors were eager to be there, and some came because their parents made them – but all had stories of how technology has affected their lives, and many sensed the urgency of a conversation about screens and faith: How does my faith inform the enormous cultural shift technology has brought on? What actions will help me grow in relationship to God and my neighbor and what actions won’t?

Screenagers was produced by Delaney Ruston, a medical doctor and mother of two teenagers. She shows her own family’s struggles to have a healthy relationship with technology and interviews many other teens and parents. Included in the film is psychological and brain research, as well as information on addiction, multi-tasking, and how technology is affecting academics.

According to the film, the average kid spends around 6.5 hours a day looking at screens. This isn’t just limited to teenagers. During the film I found myself resonating with so much of the research and stories. When I open Facebook for just that one thing and I end up spending 20 minutes scrolling, it doesn’t help my self-esteem or mood. I get distracted from my work when I hear my phone ping. Even as an adult this film offered a chance to assess my own screen use and consider how to use technology in ways that are life-giving – without it taking over my life.

After we watched the film we divided into groups for discussion. The middle schoolers I talked with are aware of the pull of technology. They’re steeped in it from early in their development and it is truly shaping their lives. They reap the benefits as well as the challenges. They’re watching their parents, who are “digital immigrants,” set boundaries for their kids (and sometimes, though not as often, for themselves). And they’re finding their own way as “digital natives.”

Screens are affecting our society in so many ways. There are plenty of tools available to help families set healthy boundaries around screen time, and they’re worth the investment. And even with those, nothing can replace self-control and good communication. Today’s kids (and their caregivers) have to navigate the dangers of their age just as every other generation has, with only a dim picture of the consequences.

Screenagers has prompted many conversations in different settings in the weeks since the screening. In some ways the challenges are totally new. And in other ways, it’s the same question we’ve always faced: How will I live as a follower of Christ in this uncharted territory?

More information about Screenagers is available at www.screenagersmovie.com. There you can find a trailer to the film, view a list of upcoming screenings to find one in your area, and explore hosting a screening yourself. Salford co-hosted their screening of Screenagers with Advent Lutheran Church.