Herzl Hosts Movie To Support Screen-Free Summer

Remember when having music at camp required a Walkman the size of novel or a boom box the size of a nightstand? And all things considered, those were the good old days. Today all of us – kids and their parents – have much of their lives on their phones, which is one thing for most of the year. But for kids, by the time they get away to camp in the summer, it’s time to unplug.

Herzl Camp is joining the push to unplug and disconnect and going screen-free. A few years back, that would be an easier thing to accomplish; but today, teens spend 6½ hours per day in front of a screen, not counting homework. Screen time is reshaping our brains and our lives in innumerable ways. More and more experts are alarmed by these changes and challenging us to examine childhood (and adult) screen time.

In order to help support camp families in that conversation, Herzl Camp is offering two free showings of the documentary “Screenagers,” on March 19 at the St. Paul JCC and March 22 at the Sabes JCC. The film is a humorous-but-sobering 68-minute documentary that examines the impact of the time the average kid spends each day looking at screens as well as the way screen-use is affecting concentration, development and family relationships.

“We’re excited to talk with our campers and families about this issue that everyone is struggling with,” said Drea Lear, Camp Director. “Camp has always been a resource to help parents. This is an issue that fits right into our mission.”

“Screenagers” probes into the vulnerable corners of family life, including the director Delany Ruston’s own, and depicts messy struggles, over social media, video games, academics and internet addiction. Through surprising insights from authors and brain-scientists’ solutions emerge on how we can empower kids to best navigate the digital world. Ruston is a Stanford-trained physician and social change documentary filmmaker who got the idea to make “Screenagers” while struggling with her kids over screen time. Ruston interviews eight authors, physicians and other experts to help get deeper into the subject.

Ruston said the initial motivation for the film was selfish.

“We were in turmoil with all the anxiety in our house with the kids wanting more screen time. I saw the writing on the wall that devices were going to be more mobile and they were going to have more homework that required being on a screen,” she said. “I turned to science to help me with solutions.”

Research has found that investing an good old-fashioned alarm clock may help your kids sleep better. In February 2015, the journal “Pediatrics” published a study of 2048 4th- and 7th-graders that shows that sleeping with a small screen decreased sleep time by 20 minutes, usually because of delayed bedtimes; The association between small screens and reduced sleep increases with age.

“For me, the No. 1 thing was to find the whole story,” Ruston said. “I wanted to speak to what majority of people are facing. As unique as each family is, we have common themes that we’re all facing. This was hard to have parents come forward. I learned how private parenting is. People are comfortable talking about the struggles, but when it comes to things they’ve tried, worked or failed, there’s a fear of being judged. That’s one of the central problems that has kept the discussion from being more prevalent.”

When it comes to camp and screens, Ruston said ideally, all sleepaway and day camps would have strict guidelines about putting technology away.

“Showing the film at the start of the camp is a wonderful way to explain the reasons why it’s good to have time off from screens,” Ruston said. “That’s why other camps have screened it and we encourage others to as well. Some are skeptical of data, but we’ve had so many kids and teens think differently about devices.”

Space is limited and tickets are free. Reserve your seat for either show at the Herzl website.