When Dr. Delaney Ruston set out to help her daughter and patients balance technology use and tackle emotional challenges facing teenagers, she ended up using her experience as a documentary producer to make two films addressing the global phenomenon.
“In 2016 I made a film called ‘Screenagers’ because as a doctor and a mother I wanted to understand the risks of screen time for young people and solutions for healthy use,” Ruston said. “So I headed off to understand the science of teens’ emotional life and, most importantly, what more could be done in schools and homes, including my own, to give all teens skills to navigate challenging emotions.”
Carrie Kirkpatrick, GAP’s Raising Girls program director, said the organization showed that first film at Jackson Hole High School. When the filmmakers reached out about screening the sequel, “Screenagers: Next Chapter,” GAP (Girls Actively Participating) decided to do so for free. The film will be shown at 6:30 p.m. Wednesday at the Center for the Arts.
“We are all living through this huge cultural shift with cellphones,” Kirkpatrick said. “We just want to help our community be healthier and more present.”
After the first “Screenagers” film, Ruston delved deeper into problems associated with increased screen time and teen development. She made “Next Chapter” to provide more strategies to equip parents, schools and teens with necessary but little-known skills.
“We hear story after story about teens struggling with stress, anxiety and depression, but where are the stories about solutions?” Ruston said. “‘Screenagers: Next Chapter’ was created to do just that.”
The films shine light on the reality that young people rack up six and a half hours a day of nonacademic screen time, according to Ruston. That can disrupt healthy development, including a teen’s ability to identify their emotions and be able to talk about them.
“Since 2011 there has been a 59% increase in teens reporting depressive symptoms,” Ruston said. “There is also an epidemic of sleep deprivation. Scientific data shows that more than two hours a day on social media correlates with a higher chance of having unhappy feelings, and teens say their main way of coping with stress is to turn to a screen. They need to learn other coping skills.”
By examining the lives of real teenagers and hearing from experts in a variety of fields, the film ultimately delivers a positive message by offering practical solutions.
“Give teens opportunities to overcome emotional challenges — help them get comfortable feeling uncomfortable,” Ruston said. “Validate more, problem-solve less.”
Many schools, including Jackson Hole High School, have stepped up to teach teenagers how to communicate and understand their emotions and behaviors for improved mental health and better academic performance.
“If you give kids information while they are suppressing emotions, they can’t retain it as well,” Ruston said. “Stressed teens are so busy cognitively they can’t pay attention to what is being taught. Over time this can affect their academic trajectory.”
Once teenagers understand the science behind their own actions and the consequences of increased screen time, Ruston said, many are proactive in changing their behavior and learning new ways to cope with their emotions. In “Next Chapter” a group of teenagers starts a mental health club at their school to share communication skills they have acquired.
“Through making the film, I was repeatedly in awe of teens’ efforts to educate and support their peers,” Ruston said.
Ruston said the feedback for “Next Chapter” has been extremely positive.
“Teens are so appreciative of hearing teen stories and how the message of the importance of validation is strong in the film,” Ruston said. “All kids, starting age 11 and up through adults, including teens, college students, parents, teachers, policymakers, grandparents and anyone else who cares about the well-being of youth in this country should see this film.”
Ruston said she and her film and advocacy partner, Lisa Tabb, are committed to disseminating the skills they’ve learned, so that teenagers can find balance in their lives.
“The messages in the film are hopeful,” she said. “There are so many important skills that parents can use to more effectively support their children — whether they are suffering from mild stress or more severe anxiety or depression. These solutions are not known by the majority of parents, educators and teens.
“We hope ‘Screenagers: Next Chapter’ changes that.” ￼