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Flipping the Script on Screen Time and Family Time

Roku's "The Spiderwick Chronicles" ignites conversations about misfits and magic.

Key points

  • TV shows can positively impact teens' knowledge, attitudes, and behaviors.
  • Roku's "The Spiderwick Chronicles" is one example that addresses mental health.
  • Screen time can be reimagined as family time with meaningful conversations.

Co-authored by Maryam Kia-Keating and Yalda T. Uhls.

It’s no secret that today’s youth are facing a mental health crisis. With non-stop media exposure, most attention is focused on reducing kids' screen time. But what if the shows we watch engage and inspire young viewers to reflect on their own lives? What if, by seeing relatable characters face challenges and find their way, teens learn important lessons about mental health and resilience?

While adolescence is a risk period for emotional turbulence, it’s also a prime opportunity to capitalize on kids’ preoccupations with their devices. TV shows and movies can be a really successful way to reach teens. Recent series like Heartstopper and Wolf Pack have given mental health themes a prominent role. The British Board of Film Classification found that 68 percent of teens surveyed said that seeing positive portrayals of mental health conditions breaks down stigma and 48 percent of them said seeing those depictions helps them understand issues around mental health. Health-related storylines can have a positive impact on viewer knowledge, attitudes, and behaviors.

Stories About Misfits and Magic Spark Conversations

When young viewers relate to characters, they become engaged in the story. For example, in Roku’s “The Spiderwick Chronicles,” the characters make a big move from New York to Michigan for a fresh start in the midst of their parents' divorce. We provided mental health consultation to showrunner Aron Eli Coleite and his team of writers, about authenticity, diversity, and resilience. Jared Grace, a 14-year-old biracial teen who can't seem to avoid trouble, played by Lyon Daniels, has a seemingly perfect twin brother (Noah Cottrell). Jared battles against himself, as he swings between being a disappointment and being a hero. Their sister, Mallory (Mychala Lee), internally grapples with the changes and pressures of adolescence, but showcases her physical and mental strength through her sport of fencing. The siblings have to find a way to stop the plans of a vicious Ogre, Mulgarath, played in the series by the captivating Christian Slater.

A show about misfits and magic creates a special opportunity to talk about common experiences of feeling misunderstood, out of place, and discounted, as well as important social problems like racism. Watching a television series like Spiderwick can provide anchors, in between episodes, to spark conversations about change, fear, intense emotions, and resilience, as well as reflecting on your own family relationships and communication. Flipping the script on screen time and family time, parents can play an important role in taking a critical look at media, together.

3 Conversation Starters for Parents and Kids

Here are some tips useful for your next binge-watch together:

1. Make it fun: Have a watch party. Get out the popcorn and be ready for a few screams. Most importantly, spend the time together. Family time and positive parenting are important predictors of long-term emotional well-being and mental health for your kids. Shared entertainment is a great way to enjoy time together. It leads to meaningful conversation, and creates a bridge to connection.

Conversation Starter: Look out for magic and surprising twists. Ask: Who was your favorite character? What was the scariest part? What do you think will happen next?

2. Lean in and listen: There’s no perfect handbook for parenting, but parents who show warmth, responsiveness, and support tend to have kids who experience better emotional health. Research points to the benefits of mindful parenting, an approach that incorporates attentive listening, awareness, and acceptance.

Conversation Starter: Look out for moments when characters have a difficult conversation, experience a conflict, or face a challenge. Ask: What did they do right? What do you think they could have done better?

3. Research together: When we studied the popular TV show 13 Reasons Why, we found that 92% of teen viewers looked up mental health information online and that 88% of them spoke to someone about mental health. When kids raise questions, it’s a chance to explore the answers together instead of leaving them to their own devices, where they may run into misinformation or lack the understanding to fully comprehend what they find. Parents may also have new questions, and it’s an opportunity to find a professional who can properly answer them and point to new resources.

Conversation Starter: Look out for times when mental health themes come up. Offer: Let’s look up some of our questions together, so we can understand more about that.

Family-friendly films and series give parents a chance to talk with kids about experiences and topics that are often already on teens' minds. With meaningful conversations, young audiences can shift from being passive viewers, with worries and unanswered questions, to empowered ones, with the confidence and support to make their next move.

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