Middle school, City Lights team up to encourage ‘Screenager’ conversation

A week-long showing of the award-winning documentary aims to spark dialogue about growing up in age of smartphones and social media

Sept. 22, 2018 — In the time since it first appeared in 2007, the iPhone has found its way into the hands of 95 percent of children born between 1995 and 2012 — a generation that does not remember a time before the internet. In that relatively short span, the smartphone has managed to become an integral part of teenagers’ daily lives, impacting them during what experts agree is a crucial time of social and mental development.

As principal of Siuslaw Middle School, Andy Marohl says he has seen first-hand the increasing need for communities to have a dialogue about what it’s like for students living in the digital age, and providing them with an understanding of what it means to be good “digital citizens.”

“The devices have become part of our lives and are powerful tools that can do a lot of good,” says Marohl. “But it’s like nuclear power. When wielded effectively and with the proper control, it can be an amazing energy source. But when it goes wrong, the consequences can be felt for generations. We have essentially put this tool into our children’s hands without teaching them how to wield it effectively or with proper control.

“Unless we start talking with them and each other about what that means as a community, the effect could be felt for generations.”

No matter where you stand on its merits, there is no denying that the simultaneous expansion of smartphone and social media usage have had a profound effect on teenagers, their parents and society as a whole.

Concerned over what the long-term impacts of so much screen time would have on her own children, Seattle physician Dr. Delaney Ruston explored why young people are so drawn to social media. Her research resulted in the award-winning documentary “Screenagers,” which delves into the complex relationship teenagers have with their screens, the pleasures and pain of sharing their lives online, the physiological reasons they often become addicted to it, and what families can do together to navigate through those challenges.

City Lights Cinemas co-owner Michael Falter first heard about the film in 2016, as program director of the Pickford Film Center in Bellingham, Wash. “I was approached by educators there about having a special showing of ‘Screenagers’ for students. But once I previewed it, I felt it was important to give parents and families as many opportunities as possible to see the film,” says Falter, who extended the Pickford Film Center showings to a full two weeks.

Between Jan. 20 and Feb. 2, more than 950 people saw “Screenagers.”

“The response was phenomenal. We got an incredible outpouring of support,” Falter says. “As a result, some really important conversations began taking place.”

A year later, Falter experienced a sense of déjà vu when he was approached by Marohl about coordinating a way to show the film to middle school students here in Florence. Again, the initial idea was a one-time screening for all students. And again, Falter felt it needed to be more. The result was a collaboration between Siuslaw Middle School and City Lights Cinemas, with sponsorship from Florence Community PTA and Oregon Pacific Bank, to offer multiple showings of “Screenagers” between now and Sept. 27 — including a special screening for all Siuslaw Middle School students, which took place yesterday afternoon.

“We sent all of our students over in shifts by grade, so that every one of them would have the chance to watch it,” says Marohl. “From there, we will follow up with conversations in the classroom about the film, utilizing special educational guides that accompany the film.”

In addition, parents and students can download guides specifically for families from a link on the school’s website.

“Without parent and family involvement, it’s a conversation that won’t last,” says Marohl.

The documentary, which has won dozens of film festival awards and been featured on PBS, “Good Morning America,” CNN, NPR and in The Washington Post and other national newspapers, will be shown today at 4:50 p.m., Sunday and Monday at 5:10 p.m., Tuesday at 7 p.m., Wednesday at 4:30 p.m. and Thursday, Sept. 27, at noon.

This Tuesday’s community screening, which will include a panel from Healthy Directions Coalition and a Q&A session, will also provide worksheets for parents and students to take home and identify strategies for growing up in the digital age in a way that is healthy for teens and their families. Thanks to financial support from the PTA and OPB, tickets for Tuesday’s showing are at a discounted group rate of $6, with the grants paying for Friday’s student and parent-invited screenings.

“The original cost to show the film just one time was $500,” explains Marohl. “But with help from City Lights and sponsorship from the PTA and OPB, we were able to show the film more times and offer the Tuesday-night community screening.”

The goal of making the film accessible to as many members of the community as possible was something Falter saw as a crucial piece of the puzzle; because teenagers aren’t the only ones being impacted by the digital age.

“It’s not just a movie for kids,” he says. “Parents’ screen time plays an important part of the conversation too. The film is eye-opening on a lot of levels no matter how old you are, whether you’re a student, parent or grandparent.”

For more information or to purchase tickets in advance, visit www.citylightscinemas.com, call 541-305-0014 or stop into City Lights Cinemas, 1930 Highway 101.

To view a preview of “Screenagers” online, visit https://vimeo.com/145826333.


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