How much screen time is too much? That’s a question parents struggle with from the time their toddler is old enough to pick up a smart phone and play with the touch pad.

A new documentary, Screenagers, and a new book, Screenwise, Helping Kids Thrive (and Survive) in Their Digital World, delve into that question and provide practical ways to evaluate the time kids – and their parents – spend with electronic devices.

The one-hour documentary by Dr. Delaney Ruston, a physician serving as filmmaker in residence at Stony Brook Medicine in New York, is being shown in community events hosted by groups, churches or schools, and it’s followed by a guided discussion about screentime. It’s been seen at several metro Atlanta churches and schools, and groups can arrange to host a showing at

Dr. Ruston made the movie after struggling with her own teens, a 14-year-old son and 12-year-old daughter. She researched why kids and adults can become so attached to their devices, and how watching devices can affect brain development.

Not all research points to negative effects of too much electronics use. For instance, Dr. Ruston says “prosocial” video games improve kids’ empathy and willingness to help others or collaborate with others in a positive way. Most research, however, suggests unfettered use of electronics can affect brain and social development.

After trial and error, Dr. Ruston created a contract with her kids when it comes to electronics. Her family has two rules, no phones in the bedrooms at night and no phone use in the car, and other limits the kids agreed to set. Over time, she says, kids learn to self-monitor use of their devices.

Screenwise by Dr. Devorah Heitner, the founder of Raising Digital Natives, gives parents practical tips on raising children in a digital age and helping them develop social skills, digitally and personally.

The book acknowledges that electronics and social media affect a kid’s school experiences, family life and friendships, and helps parents evaluate how their kids can better use different kinds of technology.

As an example, on her website,, Dr. Heitner takes on the etiquette of teens and texting. When some kids don’t get an instant acknowledgement of a text to a friend, they might feel rejected, even though the friend may have a legitimate excuse – at dinner with his family, at a sports practice, talking on the phone, etc. She has these suggestions: Model patience with your own texts when you don’t get an immediate response. Use texts for quick exchanges and planning, not to explore emotional issues that should be addressed face-to-face. Help your children set boundaries with their friends, such as “I don’t text after 9 p.m.” or “I don’t do group texts.”

– Amanda Miller Allen

Recent Posts