Local health officials will be showing a free documentary on amount of time kids spend on smartphones and other devices

INTERNET PHOTO - Many students throughout the country use their smartphones frequently.

According to recently compiled data, kids spend an average 6.5 hours a day on screens and that doesn't include classroom or homework screen time.

Some recent studies reveal that screen time increases dopamine production and causes behavior that mimics addiction.

These concerns, along with others associated with the growing prevalence of smartphones and tablets, have prompted local health officials to scrutinize the issue and determine what amount of screen time is most healthy.

"We are seeing it a lot in our schools," said Katie Plumb, prevention and health promotion supervisor with Crook County Health Department. "We are hearing from teachers and administrators that cell phone use is a distraction in the classroom."

While that is the case, schools don't want to completely prohibit smartphone use. Because technological literacy is an important skill for students in the 21st Century, school leaders are trying to balance screen time in such a way that it doesn't compromise education efforts.

"It appears that the vast majority of CCHS students have smartphones," said Crook County High School Assistant Principal Joel Hoff. "As a school, we want to teach students responsible cell phone usage, so we do not allow cell phones during class time but we do allow students to use their phones between classes and during lunch."

Plumb and other public health officials have also heard concerns from parents throughout the Central Oregon region. People attending parenting classes have asked them how to address the amount of time their children spend on different electronic devices without the conversation devolving into a battle or argument.

To help answer the many questions educators and parents face and launch an ongoing discussion about appropriate screen time, the health department is showing a free documentary, "SCREENAGERS: Growing up in the Digital Age." The film will be shown at Crook County High School this coming Tuesday, April 10 from 5:30 to 7:30 p.m.

According to Plumb, the film was created by physician and filmmaker Delaney Ruston who decided to make the documentary after constantly struggling with her two kids about screen time. Ruston felt guilty and confused, not sure what limits were best, especially around mobile phones, social media, gaming, and how to monitor online homework. Hearing repeatedly how other parents were equally overwhelmed, she realized this is one of the biggest, unexplored parenting issues of our time.

As a director, Ruston turned the camera on her own family and others, Plumb said, revealing stories of messy struggles over social media, video games, academics and internet addiction. Viewers meet Hannah, a 14-year old victim of social media bullying who has struggled trying to hide her social media use from her mom, and Andrew, whose love of video games turned into an addiction and took him from earning straight A's to flunking out of college.

Interwoven into these stories are science and insights from thought leaders Peggy Orenstein, Sherry Turkle, Simon Sinek, as well as leading brain scientists who present evidence on the real changes in the brain when kids are on screens.

"SCREENAGERS" is the first feature documentary to explore the impact of screen technology on kids, Plumb said, and it offer parents and families proven solutions that work. What started out as a personal story for one has grown into a national movement, helping millions of teens and their families navigate growing up in a world with constant access to screens.

"We are excited to be able to offer this event because it is a subject that comes up often within our families and schools" Plumb said. "We hope to begin a conversation and offer tools to support everyone — especially youth — in making healthy lifestyle choices around screens."

Parents, family members and caregivers of youth of all ages are encouraged to attend. In addition to the movie, a free, light dinner will be offered to anyone who participates in a breakout session after the showing.

The health department will offer three breakout sessions focusing on parenting, mental and emotional well-being, and youth perspective. Middle and high school students are invited to participate in the screening and youth breakout session so their voices are heard in the conversation.

Health officials intend to use the documentary viewing as a starting point for future discussion and action on the screen time issue.

"What we hope is that it stays on our radar," Plumb said, "and we will continue to look at the evolving research around the issue and continue to communicate that to the community."

To RSVP for the free "SCREENAGERS" viewing, call 541-447-3260 or register online through the Crook County Health Department Facebook page under "Events."

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