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Winooski Middle Schoolers Share Their Feelings About Screens Through Art and Words


Published January 28, 2020 at 10:00 a.m.
Updated April 6, 2022 at 9:20 a.m.

"Falling" by Hawa Mayange
  • "Falling" by Hawa Mayange

When it comes to voicing opinions about teens and screen time, adults are often the ones doing the talking. But how do young people feel about social media, texting and video games? How do they think technology affects their lives and the lives of those around them? At Winooski Middle School, seventh- and eighth-grade students recently embarked on a unit of study that spanned subject areas to examine how screen time impacts the adolescent brain. In language arts and social studies classes, they read scientific articles and opinion pieces on the subject. In science, they learned about brain development. And in math, they collected and displayed data about their own screen use.

As a final project, students created a piece of art in the surrealist style that reflected what they had learned from the unit. Winooski Middle School art teacher Emily Jacobs chose to focus on surrealism so that students were able to show their ideas "symbolically in a fantastical or bizarre way" and would not be confined by the limits of realism. "The content in their artwork shows great reflection and depth of thought, and shares a powerful range of messages," Jacobs said.

The student art is being exhibited at Scout & Co. coffee shop in Winooski until March 1. Some students have expressed that having their work hung in a public place makes them feel like professional artists, said Jacobs.

Here, find eight works from the exhibit, accompanied by an explanation of what each student learned during the unit, in their own words.

"Falling" by Hawa Mayange, 8th grade

Cellphones and computers have transformed life, and we are now exposing our brains to an environment and asking them to do things that they weren't necessarily evolved to do. Now that I understand how serious the negative impacts on brain development can be, I still use my phone most of the time to text friends and watch movies, but I try to be more aware of my screen time. The intention of my artwork is to communicate the risks of using our phones too much, to the point where we miss out on what's going on around us. My drawing is about a person that used their phone too much and then out of nowhere, she finds herself in this dark place.

"Plugged-In" by Logan Erwin, 8th grade

"Plugged-In" by Logan Erwin
  • "Plugged-In" by Logan Erwin

The most surprising thing that I learned is that we are truly almost always plugged into some kind of screen, because they're everywhere now. Even though I have recently learned much about the effects screen time has on our brain, my habits haven't changed, because I'm still on my phone all the time. My artwork is intended to communicate that we are almost always plugged into our phones and almost constantly looking at screens.

"Expectation vs. Reality" by MaeRee Jan, 7th grade

"Expectation vs. Reality" - by MaeRee Jan
  • "Expectation vs. Reality" by MaeRee Jan

Technology can change your life for worse, or for better. Screen time can be consuming and addicting when a person starts to live their life more online than off. However, for LGBTQ youth in particular, social media has provided a connection to a community that they lack in real life. In this way, screen time provides a window to encouragement, acceptance, affirmation and self-actualization; a place where they can be who they really are and showcase their true identity. My work of art is intended to show the importance of the positive impacts of screen use for LGBTQ youth, as well as the potential for technology to be overly consuming.

"Numb" by Auishma Pradhan, 7th grade

"Numb" by Auishma Pradhan
  • "Numb" by Auishma Pradhan

In science class and social studies, we have been researching the impact of screen time on our brains. We have learned that the more a person uses screens, the more addicted they become to their devices. The effect on the brain is similar to that of a drug. In my artwork, I put apps with lots of notifications, because social media can be especially addicting, and I experience relentless notifications on those apps. A lot of people spend their whole day texting and messaging on apps, and stay up late into the night using their devices. The girl in the picture is expressionless and feels numb, because all of the communication from the apps feels inauthentic and empty. She doesn't feel the closeness of real-life, face-to-face interaction because of all the hours she spends on her phone.

"Short Circuit" by John Kadariya, 7th grade

"Short Circuit" by John Kadariya
  • "Short Circuit" by John Kadariya

The most important thing I learned was that we spend so much time on screens that we do not know how much time flies by. My artwork is intended to show all the screens short-circuiting and frying the brain The boy in the picture has forgotten that he did other things other than him being on a screen. I want people to know that too much time on screens is not good for you.

"#Consumed" by Thera Neilson, 8th grade

"#Consumed" by Thera Neilson
  • "#Consumed" by Thera Neilson

When I learned about the adolescent brain, I was surprised by the fact that screens are actually highly addictive. The brain releases a chemical when you are doing something enjoyable — like when you are on a screen — and after a while, your brain wants more and more. As a result of the addictive quality of screens, people are too focused on the internet. They tune out the real world and tune in to this trendy, new online world. My artwork depicts how scary and dangerous that addiction can be, especially for a developing mind. If all a person cares about is the number of likes they get on a picture, then how can they appreciate real things? I hope everyone will work on being more aware of how they use the internet because it's much more important to enjoy the real world than a photo online.

"Lost in Code" by Hailey Nebelski, 8th grade

"Lost in Code" by Hailey Nebelski
  • "Lost in Code" by Hailey Nebelski

My artwork represents the duality of the positive and negative sides of the digital world. On one hand, the internet can morph into a person's reality and take them away from the wonders of the real world outside. However, the digital world can also be a much-needed escape for those trapped in terrible situations in their actual reality, giving them the opportunity to laugh, feel like they belong and meet others who can change their lives for the better. The digital realm can also shine light on creativity and talents that people would never recognize if not for the internet. My drawing shows a girl walking into a forest of apps — her creative escape — but also illustrates her decreased focus on and connection to reality, with the faded trees and pitch-black sky.

"The World We're Missing Around Us" by Elizabeth Perotte, 7th grade

"The World We're Missing Around Us" by Elizabeth Perotte
  • "The World We're Missing Around Us" by Elizabeth Perotte

The assignment we had was to show how technology affects us. I made my art with 31 different colored pencils and a normal pencil, and it took the time span of a week and a half. The phone is placed in the center of the drawing because, for most teenagers, their cellphone is the center of their world. The teenagers can't see the world around them because they're getting sucked into their phone by all of the apps, social media and video games. They can't see the trees, the ocean, the mountains or the stars around them.

This article was originally published in Seven Days' monthly parenting magazine, Kids VT.

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