"Screenagers" Doc Explores Teens' Relationship With Tech, Mental Health

By Beth Leipholtz 10/29/19

Screenagers: Next Chapter zeroes in on how adults can aid teenagers when it comes to mental health.

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Screens and teens: the combo has been discussed in-depth in recent years, and now a new documentary called Screenagers: Next Chapter is diving in even more deeply.

According to The Washington Post, the film is a follow-up to the 2016 documentary Screenagers: Growing Up in the Digital Age, by filmmaker and physician Delaney Ruston. 

Screenagers: Next Chapter zeroes in on how adults can aid teenagers when it comes to mental health challenges. The documentary, which is being screened around the country, focuses on stress resilience, or the ability to cope with stressful emotions. 

The Screenagers website states that the documentary “takes a deeply personal approach as [Ruston] probes into the vulnerable corners of family life, including her own, to explore struggles over social media, video games, academics and internet addiction.”

Ruston’s interest in the topic stems from her own daughter’s struggle with depression. 

“I had no idea when to step in, what to say, and often it felt like anything I said made it worse,” she told Good Morning America. “It felt like I was just tiptoeing. If I say the wrong thing, it’ll make her never talk to me again. It’s emotional just thinking about it, just how stuck I was.”

According to the Post, lower levels of stress resilience are associated with “mood disorders and conditions such as heart disease and diabetes.”

However, when teens learn to feel their emotions and then regulate them, they are more likely to move past such conditions. 

Communication Is Key

Educational psychologists Staci M. Zolkoski and Lyndal M. Bullock note that adults can assist adolescents in these circumstances by expressing care and teaching them how to communicate effectively.  

Tessa, Ruston’s daughter, says this approach from her parents was helpful. 

“Some of the things my parents said that really helped in the moments of hardship were, you’re doing the best you can for where you’re at and what tools you have, especially when I felt really low and incapable,” she told GMA. “My favorite quote that my dad said that actually really got me through the hard times that felt like forever is ‘This too shall pass.’”

In Screenagers: Next Chapter, Ruston talks with various researchers about how adults can help increase resilience in young people. One such researcher, Jessica Borelli from the University of California at Irvine, says sometimes parents' attempts at intervening can actually be a negative. Psychologist Laura Kastner adds that rather than intervene in their child’s emotions, adults should learn to validate those emotions. 

“It’s not approval, it’s not agreement—it’s seeing it from their perspective and accepting their feelings exactly the way they are, without trying to mess with them,” Kastner said. 

When parents intervene, Ruston notes, it can affect a child’s ability to increase their resilience and learn how to cope on their own. 

Screenings of Screenagers: Next Chapter, can be found at screenagersmovie.com.

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Beth is a Minnesota girl who got sober at age 20. By day she is a website designer, and in her spare time she enjoys writing about recovery at www.lifetobecontinued.com, doing graphic design and spending time with her boyfriend and three dogs. Find Beth on LinkedInInstagram and Twitter.

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