HEALTH & WELLNESS

Think your kid (or you) could be a screen zombie? Take the 'Screenagers' test

Are you a screen zombie?

Are you fighting with your significant other, your teenager, your parents, your best friend — even with yourself — about how much time your digital device is distracting you from real, as opposed to virtual, life?

Or maybe you're so buried in your screen that you don't even have time to fight.

Physician and filmmaker Delaney Ruston explores the hold that our devices have over us (and our children) in her new film, "Screenagers." Among the findings: On average, young people spend 6.5 hours a day looking at screens. "There's a risk of real addiction to these devices, resulting in serious negative consequences at any age," Ruston said. And it's not just kids who are at risk: "From 8 to 14% of the adult population has clinical Internet addiction."

Hijacking all of us is the chemical dopamine, which lights up our pleasure response. Every "ping" we hear of an incoming message and every bad guy we demolish in a video game stimulates a neurotransmitter signaling pleasure. So why bother looking up from your smartphone while crossing the street, driving in stop-and-go traffic, or even when face to face with someone you've looked forward to seeing in person?

It's easier said than done to simply turn it off, said Ruston, who undertook making the documentary when she realized her two teenagers were eternally texting, posting and gaming. But she offers a few suggestions:

Identify the problem: The film's website links to a survey that can help identify the scope of the problem, and help determine if one even exists.

Quantify and control: There are several apps — ironic, yes — that will help you quantify how much time you spend staring at a screen like a zombie. That alone can spark change. (Imagine what else you could accomplish with that time.) Some apps also give parents control over how much screen time is allowed. A few that Ruston recommends: Moment, Checky and Our Pact.

Make change fun: Sometimes an incentive or competition helps, so make a game of it. Maybe kids earn an allowance bonus or Friday night pizza for adhering to time limits. Maybe couples leave the smartphones locked in their car trunk and splurge on a nice dinner. And then there's this favorite: Next time friends and family are out at dinner, set aside all mobile devices. The first one caught sneaking a look at his or her screen gets saddled with the check.

health@latimes.com

"Screenagers"

Where: John Marshall High School, 3939 Tracy St., Los Angeles

When: 7 p.m. Wednesday

Cost: $5.

Info: You can also request screenings at screenagersmovie.com

Copyright © 2016, Los Angeles Times
A version of this article appeared in print on February 27, 2016, in the Features section of the Los Angeles Times with the headline "Screen zombies, put that down" — Today's paperToday's paper | Subscribe
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