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TECH Talk Tuesdays

Welcome to Tech Talk Tuesday's!
Every Tuesday we will post a conversation starter, taken from Screenagers Movie, for you to have with your children. We understand that technology is a huge part of our teenager's lives and sometimes it's hard to connect with them about it. We hope this helps a bit!
November 28: Podcasts

Do you ever listen to podcasts while on a long drive? Podcasts have been on the rise! Did you know that there are some great podcasts to listen to with your kids? On your next long drive, put the IPads, Iphones, Tablets, etc. down and listen to some podcasts with your family. 

Furthermore, as Stephanie Hayes writes in the Atlantic

“The absence of images in podcasts seems to be a source of their creative potential. Without visuals, listeners are required to fill the gaps—and when these listeners are children, the results can be powerful. Numerous studies have found that children between the ages of seven and 13 respond more creatively to radio stories than to stories shown on television. Audio stories prompt kids to draw more novel pictures, think up more unique questions, and solve problems in a more imaginative way than TV tales.”

Below are just a few. They are great conversation starters!

How Can I Do the Most Social Good With $100? 
Thinking Is Expensive. Who’s Supposed to Pay for It?
Ted Radio
Sam Kass: Can Free Breakfast Improve Learning?
Wendy Troxel: Does High School Start Too Early?

Planet Money
Episode 804: Your Cell Phone's A Snitch
Episode 369: If Teens Ran the Fed

Some other great ones are This American LifeRadiolab, and StoryCorps. A couple that I’ve heard are good for younger kids are Tumble and Brains On.

Here are some conversation starters:

  • Do you ever listen to podcasts at school? If so, are there any you like?
  • What do you think of listening to something other than music in the car?
  • If you were to do a podcast, what would it be about? 
November 14: Media Literacy

Our children’s young eyes are taking in all kinds of media and messaging with little skill on how to make sense of what they are seeing.

A major survey of youth age 8 to 18 found that of the total amount of time youth spend on screens the majority is spent watching stuff (movies, TV, Netflix, YouTube videos ). That makes up 40% of their time on screens. Meanwhile, another 30% of kids' screen time is spent playing video games and scrolling through the internet. That is a lot of imagery, messaging and subject matter being passively delivered to and consumed by our children. (The last big chunk, 30% is spent on communication, i.e., social media and such).

I suggest starting a conversation with your kids about media literacy at the dinner table. The National Association of Media Literacy’s downloadable free guide for parents is a great resource. Talk to them about questioning what they see when they view ads and social media posts, watch YouTube videos, play games and more.  For Tech Talk Tuesday, here are some specific questions to ask your children and yourselves about their favorite content:

  • Do you know who made it?
  • Do you feel like they left anything out of the storyline?
  • How might different people interpret the various messages?
  • Who might benefit from the message?
  • To whom might the message be harmful?


October 31 : Happy Halloween!

Video Games & Brain Science

Does your kid freak out when screen time is up? Intense reactions to turning off video games are becoming too common. Where is this anger at stopping the game coming from? When someone plays a video game, the brain’s pleasure chemical, dopamine, is secreted into the reward center. For eons of human existence, this region was being lit up for things only related to human survival –such as human connection, sex, food and such. Today, young children are receiving the pleasure chemical when they get notifications from texts, email and video games.

When the game is cut off, so is the dopamine. And when the brain realizes it will not be getting the pleasure chemical, emotions like anger and panic take over. Scientists call this “surge extinction.” We see this in the lab when a rat learns to push a lever and gets rewarded with a drug. If suddenly the drug stops flowing, the rat does not walk away calmly but instead starts pushing on the lever frantically. This behavior is very similar to when our kids’ freak out when the gaming console is turned off.

So how do we make transitions from video games work better? Dialogue, limits, and warnings. Bring your child into the decision about when to stop. If they have ownership of the stop times, they will be less likely to freak out.

Every expert talks about the importance of having a timer set while kids are playing video games. Having a timer set means that not only have you and your child decided on an amount of time, it also defines the time and helps with transitions. Some recommend having a timer with two bells, one that goes off 10 minutes to stop time and one at the end.

Another tip is to practice transitions with kids. Let's say your child often gets upset when the time is up. Consider working with him or her to find a game they find boring and then practice transitioning off it. If nothing else this might create some smiles talking about “stupid” games. Eventually, pick harder games to transition off and talk about how it could go better.

One thing is to help the child become mindful of reality. For instance, maybe it is super hard for her to transition off a game that she is playing online with her friends because she doesn’t want to let her friends down. Maybe the key is to get her to realize that it is best not to play that game when she only gets thirty minutes on the computer that day.

Another thing to consider is that when we play these rewarding games, our brain’s pleasure chemical, dopamine, is filling up dopamine receptors. Our brain adapts by decreasing dopamine receptors. This means, over time, the brain will need more and more video games to get the same pleasurable feelings from the reward. For this reason, many experts recommend limiting video game use to shorter time intervals (such as 30 minutes at a time) to prevent this down-regulation of dopamine receptors.

Below are questions to help you talk to your kids about video games and transitions. 

  1. What are your favorite video games these days?
  2. Which is the hardest to transition off and why?
  3. What tricks have worked to make transitioning off go smoother?
  4. A little exercise that could be fun is to have a child play a game they like, but not to look at a clock. Then, ask how long they were playing. You may well show them “time distortion” in action.
  5. Do you as a parent play video games with your kids? One survey showed that only 6% of parents ever play video games with their children and yet playing a video game together can be positive for the relationship.
October 24

A blog post from Dr. Delany Ruston (producer of Screenagers):

Last week Common Sense Media released the results from their latest survey: Media Use by Kids Age Zero to Eight. While the results are not surprising, they are troubling. 

What I found most interesting is that almost half of kids eight years old and under have their own mobile device (this includes all types of mobile electronics including smartphones). What are the concerns of this new mobile reality?

First, we have to fully accept the intensity with which youth desire today’s fast-paced and interactive screen time. I hear of one and a half-year-olds standing up in their cribs yelling, “iPad, iPad” not “Mommy” or “Daddy.” Screen time plays directly into the pleasure parts of children’s brains. They want high excitement and flashing lights—they want dopamine secreted in the nucleus accumbens of their brain.

Now that this dopamine pump can travel everywhere with a child, it means as parents we have two choices: hand the device over and quiet the child or, set clear guidelines and work to stick to them. This is not easy, and this is exactly what Screenagers is all about. In the movie, I explore the science of screen time but also what the science of parenting tells us about how to set and stay within limits. 

There are several ways that limiting the use of mobile devices outside the home can help young kids' development:

  1. When our kids cry or whine in public, and we hand them a screen to quiet them, we are promoting a quick fix mentality to treating their uncomfortable feelings. Showing our children how to find other ways to alleviate these emotions will possibly save them in the long run from using unhealthy remedies in emotionally charged situations. 
  2. While we can fool ourselves into thinking the screen is opening new worlds for our young kids, it actually might be diminishing their experiences. When out at the grocery store there are benefits to having kids ponder why water sprays the produce and how fun it is to talk to the cashier. In my work as a doctor, I gently ask kids to put their screens away and that I want them to see the cool things about being in the health world.
  3. Also, a recent study of toddlers and mobile devices shows a negative link between the use of mobile devices and expressive language skills. The researchers looked at nine hundred 18 month-year-olds of which 20% used mobile devices. They found that toddlers who did not use mobile devices had significantly better language skills than the 20% who did interact with screens. There are many reasons why there would be this finding, but I bring it up as something to consider.

So how young is too young for a mobile device? I prefer instead to think about how often do we give youth mobile devices to use outside the home? I can’t give an exact age, but I can say that particularly for toddlers, the more mobile devices are not mobile, the better. 

Here are some questions to get a conversation started with your kids about these issues:

  • How old do you think kids should be before they start using a mobile device outside of the home? 
  • When you are out and you don’t have a device, at the grocery store or waiting in line for example, are there any benefits to being screen-free? 
  • Do you think you are a role-model for someone?

For more discussion ideas, you can peruse past Tech Talk Tuesdays. If you are interested in seeing Screenagers, you can find event listings on our site and find out how to host a screening

Stay in touch with the Screenagers community on FacebookTwitter and at 


Delaney Ruston, MD

October 10 - 10 Documentaries to Watch With Your Family
Taken from Screenagers - Delaney Ruston, MD

Let’s face it—our kids are exposed to lots of media that is pure junk. Media frequently paints a world filled with such intense negativity— people out to impress, people out for themselves, people out to hurt others...the list goes on and on. So how to expose kids to media that has positive messages but is not overly sappy? To find media that is real and meaningful? In my completely unbiased view, I think documentaries make for great media. Okay, I am biased because I am one of many people who make documentaries. 

Documentaries can so beautifully grip one's heart while bringing awareness to a great variety of topics. I think it is so important that kids know about this diversity of issues. In June I was in Harlem, NY to do a showing of Screenagers at an after-school program. Before the screening, I asked some students what they knew about the film they were going to watch. One student replied, ”I don’t know, but I know it is a documentary, so I think it will be about animals.” Another student then said, “Nah, it could also be about history.”

Below is a collection of some of my family’s favorites (There are many others, but I will save them for later).  At the top are ones that I think are appropriate for all ages and below are ones best for teens and older. 

For this week’s TTT share this list with your family and pick one to watch together. Please share with me what you watched if you get a chance. Also, it would be great to get your favorite kid/teen friendly docs on our Facebook page

Spellbound chronicles the experiences of eight kids as they progress through the 1999 Scripps National Spelling Bee. 

First Position looks inside the determined and focused world of youth ballet. This documentary follows six dancers as they compete in the 2011 American Grand Prix, an annual competition for dancers aged 9 to 19. 

That Sugar Film is a documentary in which Filmmaker Damon Gameau takes us along for the ride as he goes from a diet of no sugar to one with sugar. 

Batkid Begins is a true heart warmer. This documentary invites you along with the Make-A-Wish foundation as they turn San Francisco into Gotham City for 5-year-old cancer survivor Miles Scott so he can save the day as Batkid. 

My Kid Could Paint That introduces us to Marla Olmstead, a four-year-old who paints incredible paintings—but is she truly doing it alone?

Mai's America follows the experiences of a Vietnamese teenager from the bustling city of Hanoi as she spends her senior year in rural Mississippi. 

Devil's Playground offers a unique glimpse into the lives of Amish teenagers as they embark on the coming-of-age ritual of Rumspringa. Teens have the option to party at age 16 and then decide if they want to stay in their Amish culture or not. 
Ivory Tower investigates the cost and value of higher education. I really think this is an excellent film for those who are finishing high school or in college now. 

Street Fight follows Corey Booker and 16-year incumbent Sharpe James during their 2002 New Jersey mayoral campaign.

October 3
Most Popular apps with Teens in 2017 - if you are not familiar with them, it's time to get to know them!
September 26
Sleep... What is that in a world of technology?
In recent conversations, I have had a few teachers discussing the need for their students to get some more sleep. They are having more and more students sleeping in class or expressing concerns of tiredness. 

The American Academy of Sleep Medicine (AASM) released recommendations for the number of hours a night that kids and teens need to sleep, to function at their best.

  • "Infants 4 months to 12 months should sleep 12 to 16 hours per 24 hours (including naps) on a regular basis to promote optimal health.

  • Children 1 to 2 years of age should sleep 11 to 14 hours per 24 hours (including naps) on a regular basis to promote optimal health.

  • Children 3 to 5 years of age should sleep 10 to 13 hours per 24 hours (including naps) on a regular basis to promote optimal health.

  • Children 6 to 12 years of age should sleep 9 to 12 hours per 24 hours on a regular basis to promote optimal health.

  • Teenagers 13 to 18 years of age should sleep 8 to 10 hours per 24 hours on a regular basis to promote optimal health."


    • Regularly sleeping fewer than the number of recommended hours is associated with attention, behavior, and learning problems. Insufficient sleep also increases the risk of accidents, injuries, hypertension, obesity, diabetes, and depression. Insufficient sleep in teenagers is associated with increased risk of self-harm, suicidal thoughts, and suicide attempts. 

    • Regularly sleeping more than the recommended hours may be associated with adverse health outcomes such as hypertension, diabetes, obesity, and mental health problems. 

    • Parents who are concerned that their child is sleeping too little or too much should consult their healthcare provider for evaluation of a possible sleep disorder.

    • Sleeping the number of recommended hours on a regular basis is associated with better health outcomes including improved attention, behavior, learning, memory, emotional regulation, quality of life, and mental and physical health. 


Several studies show that small screens int he bedroom can disrupt sleep. In February 2015, the Journal of Pediatrics published a study of 2048 4th - 7th graders which found that sleeping with a small screen decreased sleep time by 20 minutes, usually because of delayed bedtimes.

For Tech Talk Tuesday this week, here are a few questions to help you start your conversation:

  1. Do you sleep with your personal device in your room?
  2. If so, why? If the answer is it is an alarm clock, remember, you can just buy a stand-alone, cheap alarm clock.
  3. Does your device ever wake you up at night? If so, what is waking you up? Calls, texts, notifications, just knowing it's there and you can check it?
September 19
Social media - helping or harming your mental health?
In May 2017, a survey by the Royal Society of Public Health in England revealed that 3 of the 4 most popular social media platform/apps had a negative effect on the mental well-being of young people. Students were surveyed about Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, YouTube and Snapchat.
Some of the questions were on negative experiences and feelings, such as anxiety and depression when using the apps. Other questions were about positive experiences - such as getting emotional support on these sites and the ability for self-expression. Nearly 7 out of 10 teens reported receiving support on social media during a challenging time. 
For all of the sites, other than Facebook, the platforms were found to have more a NEGATIVE effect on mental well-being than a positive effect. Instagram was the WORST - showing that it brings up a lot of feelings of anxiety, depression, loneliness, as well as problems with body image and sleep.
For this Tech Talk, check in with your kids about how often they use these social media apps and what feelings come up for them when they do. If your kids are younger, then it can still be a great conversation about what responsibility companies have to their users. 
Some talking points:
  • What are some of the positives of being on social media for you personally?
  • Can you give an example of getting social support during a challenging time?
  • Which platform makes you feel anxious or sad at times and why?

** The 14 health and well-being-related issues were:

  1. Awareness and understanding of other people's health experiences
  2. Access to expert health information you know you can trust
  3. Emotional support (empathy and compassion from family and friends)
  4. Anxiety (feelings of worry, nervousness or unease)
  5. Depression (feeling extremely low and unhappy)
  6. Loneliness (feelings of being all on your own)
  7. Sleep (quality and amount of sleep)
  8. Self-expression (the expression of your feelings, thoughts or ideas)
  9. Self-identity (ability to define who you are)
  10. Body image (how you feel about how you look)
  11. Real world relationships (maintaining relationships with other people)
  12. Community building (feeling part of a community of like-minded people)
  13. Bullying (threatening or abusive behavior towards you)
  14. FoMO (Fear of Missing Out – feeling you need to stay connected because you are worried things could be happening without you)
September 12
Families today are busy. Often everyone is running in different directions, and texting each other under the same roof is becoming the new normal. To keep our sanity, and our face-to-face conversations alive, here are some family rules that could help:
  1. Device-free dinners - this leads to engaging conversations, especially when we don’t have easy access to answering questions about topics that come up.

  2. No phones during homework or study time 

  3. Phone-free bedrooms at sleeping time—this is exactly what it sounds like. No phones, tablets, TV’s or computers in the bedroom when the lights go out.

  4. Leave your phone at home during family outings. You will get a lot of resistance to this one, but stand firm. The kids will concede.  Not only does this promote a more intimate family bonding experience, but it decreases their, and our, compulsion to always check our devices. This helps when they are back in school and have the urge to check during a boring lecture.

For this Tech Talk Tuesday use these four rules as a conversation starter, then come up with a few rules of your own that will work for your family. Suggested talking points are:

  • Phones at the dinner table—yes or no?

  • Devices on the night stand—Yes, they are handy alarm clocks but do you think you will have a more restful sleep without a screen under your pillow?

  • Simpler study time—Some would argue having a phone nearby is necessary for retrieving quick information but try studying without it. It’s been proven that your focus and retention will improve without the glaring distraction.

  • Device-free family outings —This one will take a little while to get used to, but challenge each other to come up with phone-free outing ideas everyone will enjoy.