While putting together the city wellbeing report, Somerville Community Health Agenda Director Lisa Brukilacchio saw evidence of how technology is impacting health at every age level.
“What we’re hearing is, from preschool providers, that they are seeing that parents are on their devices, that they’re not interacting with their young children, so that’s where a lot of our concern grew from,” she says. “We even hear from parents, ‘I don’t know how to let go of these things.’”
Concerns about the impact of technology are prevalent among families and community leaders, and prompted the public schools, Cambridge Health Alliance (CHA), and Tufts University to co-sponsor a screening of “Celling Your Soul: Raising Kids in a Digital Age,” an award-winning documentary from filmmaker and professor Joni Siani.
Siani’s film tackles the tricky dilemma that technology poses: It has the power to connect us and promote learning, but also has been linked to issues including depression, sleep deprivation, and decreased social skills
“In our eagerness to embrace digital communication as a way of life, we have forgotten how critical face-to-face, personal communication is to our language, social, and emotional development,” Superintendent Mary Skipper said in a statement. “As this screening points out, we’re seeing the impact of an over-reliance on digital communication in a number of concerning ways among youth of all ages, which in the long run will impact entire communities.”
Through her research, Siani has developed a one-week challenge called “No App For Life,” where people of all ages are encouraged to limit technology use and record their feelings and experiences throughout the week.
The challenge acknowledges that a total technology blackout is not feasible or sustainable, according to Brukilacchio, and seeks to reestablish a healthier balance between technology use and social interaction.
“The rate of proliferation of digital devices in the lives of children of all ages is alarming, when you consider the impacts on typical development, obesity, and sleep,” CHA Pediatrician Dr. Malessa Dias said in a statement.
“One of the effects we’ve seen is the lack of imaginative play, because so many of the toys that kids are exposed to involve buttons or watching screens,” says Nomi Davidson, director at the public schools’ Somerville Family Learning Collaborative. “And, of course, the lack of imagination impacts their learning as they grow older, and their physical activity.”
Young adults have reported trouble with social skills, according to Brukilacchio, who points out that they might be socially isolated later in life and be subject to the many health risks associated with loneliness.
Brukilacchio hopes the event will inspire families to make changes in their homes, both for adults and for children. She also notes that policy changes, like banning work emails after 7 p.m., could help push a cultural shift, and suggests that media literacy education in schools could be helpful.
“Behaviors that have become ingrained in the work world are having an impact,” she says. “The fact that parents’ bosses can be emailing them at any time of the day or week and there’s expectation that you respond to that immediately, that’s a lesson for a young kid.”
The free film screening and discussion will run from 6:30 to 8:30 p.m. on April 3 in Tufts’s Cohen Auditorium at 40 Talbot Ave., Medford.