Screened Out

Movie review by
Andrea Beach, Common Sense Media
Screened Out Movie Poster Image
Parents recommend
Earnest docu takes a critical look at screen time.
  • NR
  • 2020
  • 71 minutes

Parents say

age 12+
Based on 6 reviews

Kids say

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The parents' guide to what's in this movie.

Positive Messages

Argues that tech products, especially social media and games, are specifically designed to keep your attention for as long as possible, to keep you coming back. Also that overuse of screen time alters your brain, has some of the same effects as illegal drugs; it's also harmful to society because it inhibits ability to interact with real people in real world. Parents are powerful role models for even youngest kids, so be aware of screen time use you're modeling and message your behavior sends. We have to figure out how to use screen time mindfully instead of reactively. You have the power to decide where to focus your attention and for how long, and to prioritize who and what in your life deserves your attention the most.

Positive Role Models & Representations

People interviewed either for their experience with tech or their expertise represent a variety of ethnicities and backgrounds. Animations that explain or illustrate also show a broad range of skin tones. Filmmaker and his wife model a supportive relationship with open communication, present themselves as people who aren't perfect but who try to learn, understand, and do better.


Cyberbullying, self-harm, and suicide are explored without direct depictions or gory details. An animation shows a cartoon rat getting an electric shock in an experiment. Brief footage of a video game shows animated shooting and blood splatter.


"Butt" and "screwed."

Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

A central theme is question of whether addiction to screen time is same as addiction to drugs or alcohol. Strong arguments are presented concluding that it is. Using cell phones is directly compared to using cocaine. Mention that BlackBerry devices (early personal digital assistants) were called "CrackBerries" because they were so addictive. Checking your phone is compared to smoking a cigarette as a way to fill a lull in conversation. Lighting and smoking a cigarette shown in closeup.

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that Screened Out is a documentary that explores screen time overuse, whether it's an addiction, and what effects it has on individuals and society. There are lots of strong messages about the damage that too much screen time can do to individuals and to society -- and about how the time parents spend in front of screens sends a powerful signal to kids. Cyberbullying, self-harm, and suicide are explored without direct depictions or gory details. An animation shows a cartoon rat getting an electric shock in an experiment. Brief footage of a video game shows animated shooting and blood splatter. Note: The film uses data from Common Sense Media studies about age-appropriate screen use, as well as an on-camera interview with Common Sense Media founder Jim Steyer.

User Reviews

  • Parents say
  • Kids say
Adult Written byMoC June 3, 2020

Even better than expected

I was expecting this film to be informative, but it was even better than we expected. The kids (ages 17 and 21) sat down to watch for a few minutes and then sta... Continue reading
Adult Written bylovinthechallenge May 22, 2020

Excellent film for the whole family!

Sometimes we want to justify all of our screen time b/c it's just how our world is now. This film explores how screens are affecting all of, teen... Continue reading

There aren't any reviews yet. Be the first to review this title.

What's the story?

SCREENED OUT takes a hard look at people's use -- and overuse -- of smartphone technology. Many of us use social media and games that clamor for our attention and take up more and more of our time. Is spending so much time looking at screens a true addiction? Even if it's not, the film argues that it's worth taking a close look at the effects that so much screen time has on us as individuals and as a society. Interviews with experts and ordinary users alike show the impact that technology has on adults, teens, and even the littlest kids. The film's hope is that if we understand the problems and drawbacks of too much screen time, we can learn how to make the best use of the technology while still participating fully in the real world.

Is it any good?

This earnest documentary takes an unflinching look at people's use of smartphones and tablets, coming to the conclusion that too much screen time is bad for society, families, and individuals. Through interviews with experts, conversations with ordinary people, and scientific and academic research, Screened Out shows exactly how apps -- especially social media and gaming apps -- draw users into their screens and keep them there. Viewers also make personal connections to people who've struggled with screen addiction, people who are just trying to cut back a little bit, and people who've been damaged by their obsessions.

Director Jon Hyatt has a definite point of view, and he doesn't attempt to debate the question of whether too much screen time is good or bad. Instead, he makes sure to drive his point -- it's bad -- home with an engaging mix of data, statistics, and people's real experiences. Some points he makes come pretty close to scare tactics, like when tech company motivations and growth strategies are discussed. Think of watching Screened Out as a great opportunity for adults especially, to carefully examine their own screen use and the example they're setting. It's also an excellent starting point for families to talk about priorities, relationships with others, and strategies for bringing balance and mindfulness to their technology use.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about how Screened Out examines the effects of screen time. Do you agree that it's harmful? Why or why not? Did you learn anything that surprised you?

  • If you have a smartphone, do you feel addicted to it? Would you be willing to try to limit your screen time, or change the way you use it, in the interests of digital well-being? What are some strategies you can try?

  • If you have a smartphone or tablet, does it have an app for tracking screen time? Do you use it? If you don't use it, estimate how much time you think you spent looking at your screen today, and compare your guess with the data from the app. Were you close?

Movie details

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