Documentary Filmmaker & Primary Care Physician

Delaney Ruston

Delaney Ruston chose her two career paths of primary care physician and documentary filmmaker for one reason: to help create positive change in people’s lives. Her experiences receiving medical care in free clinics while growing up motivated her to pursue health care. During her medicine residency, she began studying filmmaking for social impact and made her first award-winning film. Following her residency she worked at UCSF doing research in the science of human communication and went on to become a Fulbright Scholar in the area of mental health. She has spent the past 11 years intensely researching the impact of screen time on youth and solutions for screen time balance.

For over twenty years Delaney has split her time between providing primary care and creating short and feature-length documentaries, such as the Screenagers trilogy. Examples of her other films include Unlisted: A Story of Schizophrenia about her father and Hidden Pictures about global mental health. These films have been screened widely, aired on PBS, and were at the forefront of advocacy campaigns, including with the World Health Organization. For her work in using films to build movements, Delaney has won several awards including Harvard’s McLean National Council Recognition Award, New York’s Fountain House Advocacy Award, and one from Mental Health America.

Delaney trained at Stanford Medical School, followed by a medicine residency at UC San Francisco. She has been faculty at The University of Washington School of Medicine and at The Center for Medical Humanities, Bioethics and Compassionate Care at Stony Brook School of Medicine, NY.

Ruston currently lives in Seattle, WA where she has spent many years providing medical and mental health care to underserved teens and adults.

Delaney Ruston

“Ruston’s insight during the session was so informative and helpful in explaining this new technology era. We have had such positive feedback from the parents and students as well!”

Dana Leblein, Counselor, West Essex Middle School

filmmaker's statement: Screenagers

Filmmaker Delaney Ruston speaking to children at an event

I started taking filmmaking classes during my medical residency in San Francisco, excited to learn how the power of real-life stories could help promote social change. I sought out teachers who were doing just that, such as Judith Helfand, whose film Blue Vinyl (HBO) examined toxins in our lives. She galvanized audiences to go beyond watching the movie and take action.

It was during that time that I made my first film. If She Knew told the story of a patient facing an issue related to her culture that was unfortunately absent from our medical education. I was thrilled to be awarded a grant to provide it to all medical schools.

The stories I have chosen to tell since then continue to feature topics that affect our lives but get too little attention, such as mental health. With Unlisted: A Story of Schizophrenia (PBS), about my father, and Hidden Pictures (PBS), about global mental health, I learned about using film for advocacy. I partnered with groups such as The National Alliance on Mental Illness and the World Health Organization, discovering innovative ways to promote compassion and action.

Like Unlisted, Screenagers emerged directly from a chapter of my own life. I was facing a challenge that caught me off-guard — raising teenagers whose attention was increasingly consumed by screen-based activities. With a 14-year-old son who loved video game time and a 12-year-old daughter who was lobbying hard for her own smart phone, I encountered frequent battles on both fronts. I would work on being tolerant, then suddenly lose my patience, and then feel guilty for getting mad.

Meanwhile I could see that my kids’ schools were not improving the situation.  First of all, administrations were becoming more lenient about phones in classrooms even though many teachers were exasperated trying to police phones. Second of all, classroom time looking at “digital citizenship” issues was generally nonexistent. At my daughter’s middle school, the digital citizenship “curriculum” consisted of a single assembly by a police officer who scared the kids about stranger danger and then went on to blame the students for cyberbullying. Science has shown that scare tactics do not effectively influence children’s behavior.

As a physician, I became increasingly anxious to know how our new tech world affects children’s development. I started finding new research on the impact of video gaming and social media on self-esteem, empathy, social skill development, academics and brain development. As a mom, I wanted to examine how we can better manage screen time in our homes and schools. What does science teach us about teaching self-control? How can we best encourage youth to find their own ways to achieve balance? What limits and rules are reasonable and how do we implement them?

Eventually, given the struggles I was facing at home, along with all the things I was researching, I decided to start making a film. I needed to find stories that addressed the questions and ideas floating in my head. I was completely surprised to learn how hard it would be to capture family and school challenges on film. Finding stories for my past mental health films had been difficult, but this was harder. I had underestimated how private parenting is. I started to see it in myself, noticing that I was too shy to tell friends my rules, such as the one about prohibiting cell phones in the car. Other friends were embarrassed to tell me they had no rules. And we were all self-conscious about how hard it was to enforce any rules we did have.

Fortunately, my team and I did find incredible families, teachers and children across the U.S. from diverse socio-economic and cultural backgrounds—and I am so grateful to all of these people and schools! They shared experiences that are relatable, very personal, but not sensational. I decided to include my own family’s struggles too. Some of the stories are cautionary tales that give us an encounter with scenarios we hope to avoid by knowing about them in advance, but mostly they inspire empathy, understanding and action.

When it came time to launch Screenagers, it was clear to me that the film needed to be shown in public spaces, to bring together kids, parents, educators, health providers and policy makers for conversations that can lead to change in our homes and communities.

And indeed this approach has been incredibly effective. People have organized hundreds of packed screenings and we get daily feedback of how change is occurring.

These public screenings and discussions have been effective for many reasons including the fact that they:

1. Reveal the magnitude of the problem. Nearly every family and school faces similar struggles. The next step is to talk openly about solutions. “I didn’t realize other families were sorting out rules too,” my daughter told me after participating in her first post-film discussion.

2. Increase understanding of why balance is needed. That gives us the confidence to set appropriate tech limits. For example, what if it became normal for parents of young kids to talk about ensuring offline time during playdates?

3. Inspire communities to work together. Young people and adults can collaborate to better manage screen time in our homes and schools.

We all know that our new lives with kids and tech is challenging—I still struggle at home. I have learned that I can’t always know if I am parenting the “right” way but I can know that I am parenting with integrity by following my belief that I have a responsibility to provide my kids with the most diverse experiences as possible.

I would love to hear from you, so please email me.




With SCREENAGERS, and NEXT CHAPTER and with her prior films on mental health topics, Dr. Ruston has been a sought-after speaker. Her talks weave together poignant stories with cutting-edge science that both entertain and provide practical takeaways.

past speaking engagements

Companies & Organizations

Google | Facebook | The United Nations | The Gates Foundation | Pixar | TEDx Seattle | Grant Halliburton Foundation | Cigna| Bank Of America| Genentech | Beyond School Hours Texas| Ernst and Young (EY)| American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry| International Counselors Association| Chotcow Nation| Florida PTA Conference| Association of Washington School Principals| California PTA Conference| National School Nurses Conference

Show more>

Young Entrepreneur's Organizations| Sellen Construction | Zulily | Core Club New York | Union for Reform Judaism | St Andrew's Church | Parent Map | Book Industry Environmental Council Annual Conference | Buckingham Group| ESC Region 13 Austin| Fauntleroy Church | Glencoe Church | Cuyahoga County Public Library | Soho House | Greenwich Library and Schools | The Northwest Film Forum | The Alabama Association of School Resource Officers | Better Business Bureau of Los Angeles | Media Power Youth PLUS OTHERS

Schools and Universities

Sidwell in Washington DC | | Miami Dade County Schools| Hinsdale School District | Atlanta Academy| Lakeside School| NYU Medical School | Royal College of London | Los Angeles Unified School District | Harvard University | Fairfield Country Day| Bainbridge High School | Rosarian Academy | Battery Park City School | The Philadelphia School |

Show more>

University of Washington | Duke University | University of Kentucky | University School of Milwaukee/REDgen | University of Technology Paris | St. Joseph School | The Bush School | The Philadelphia School | Brearley School | Bronxville School | PS89 in New York | Madison Middle School | Miss Edgar's and Miss Cramp's School | Bay View Academy | Kuper Academy | Rosarian Academy | St. Andrews School | Millbrook School | Oneonta City School District | Belmont Day School | Post Middle School | Bainbridge High School | Hinsdale School District | Glenbard School District | Royal University Hospital | The Harbour School | Newburyport School District | Newmark School | Ventana School | Kromrey Middle School | Coppell ISD| Harbour School Hong Kong | Frisco ISD | West Essex | Newmark School | International School of Amsterdam | Greenwich Library and Schools | PLUS OTHERS

Health and Mental Health Organizations

The World Health Organization (WHO) | Aspen Institute Children's Forum | The American Psychiatric Association's Annual Conference | American Association of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry (AACAP) Conference | Sutter Health Palo Alto Medical Foundation | National Alliance on Mental Illness's Convention |

Show more>

Asia-Pacific Conference on Addiction | Harvard's McLean Hospital Annual Event | King County Department of Mental Health | Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration | The National Council on Community Behavioral Health Convention | Travis County Medical Association | Mental Health America's Convention | First Asia Pacific Conference of Addiction Professionals | Aspen Institute Children's Forum | Florida Council for Community Mental Health Conference | Childwise Health Institute | Gateway Community Services | PLUS OTHERS

upcoming speaking engagements

March 25, 2021

Toronto District School Board

April 24, 2021

Oregon PTA Conference

April 27, 2021

Frankfurt International School

May 14, 2021

California PTA Conference

May 25, 2021

Youth Think

Show more>
June 21, 2021

Association of Washington School Principals

arrow previousarrow next

"Watching Ruston lead workshops with our middle and high school students in our school district was a wonderful experience! Her ability to get students engrossed in conversations about our tech revolution, impact and solutions, was so impressive."

Faith Jantzi, Parent and Lecture Series Committee Lead, New York East Aurora School District

"Dr. Delaney Ruston provided an engaging and enlightening keynote that gave all of our conference guests something to think about as administrators, teachers, mentors, and parents of children in the digital age. We were thrilled she provided such an interactive experience for everyone."

Elizabeth Mangas, Chief Experience Officer, Educational Records Bureau Conference

"In a workshop to all school counselors and at an evening event is having an impact! Dr. Ruston was humorous, personable and engaging! What impressed me most is how she interacted with the audience."

Jeri Wyn Mumford, Parent

"Her excellent parent presentation hit all the important technology concerns. She presented a very common sense, balanced approach to screen time challenges and gave us all practical tips and resources for productive family discussions."

Gregg Bach, Assistant Head of School, University School of Milwaukee

"I am so thankful for Dr. Ruston sharing her knowledge and insights of the effects of screen time with us at our recent event. The important family conversations sprouting from her films and her live speaking event have been invaluable."

Ryan Gallagher, Director of Educational Technology, San Francisco Friends School

“Delaney’s talk and Q &A made all the difference for our parent education event. Insightful, entertaining and uncannily honest, Delaney ranks high on our list of top-notch speakers. She is warm and engaging and creates an environment for honest and open dialogue. ”

Stephanie Landau, Parent and Co-Chair, Parent Ed Committee, Dwight-Englewood School

“Dr. Ruston shared excellent advice with our parents and students. We appreciated her positive, solution-oriented talk which helped our community identify and address issues of balance in our students’ lives.”

Michael McGlade, ISA Director of Educational Technology

“Ruston’s insight during the session was so informative and helpful in explaining this new technology era. We have had such positive feedback from the parents and students as well!”

Dana Leblein, Counselor, West Essex Middle School

“Delaney Ruston’s opening keynote electrified and focused our annual conference of educators. Delaney’s description of the problem and call to action helped us get past the hand-wringing and focus on strategies for response.”

Thomas Rochon, President, Educational Records Bureau


At Screenagers and Screenagers NEXT CHAPTER events, Delaney shares surprising science and humorous stories, often from her own parenting struggles, that illustrate key solutions for better tech balance. She shares effective tools derived from her 20 years of experience as a physician focused on behavior change.

Topics Include:

  • The Secrets of Parenting Successful Screenagers
  • The Surprising Science of Screen Time and Children’s Development
  • The Impact of Screen Time on Mental Health and Solutions
  • How Schools and Businesses can Promote Tech Balance
  • Workshops for Youth and Teens—Harnessing Their Solutions For Healthy Use


For her films UNLISTED and HIDDEN PICTURES, and the campaigns she created surrounding them, Delaney speaks and advocates internationally about mental health issues.

Mental Health Topics Include:

  • Global Mental Health - Lessons that Cross All Borders
  • Where Mental Health Care Stands Today—insights from a daughter, doctor, and advocate
  • Why Sharing Our Stories Stops Toxic Shame
  • Why Mental Illness Doesn’t Tear Families Apart, Lack of Care Does