Patricia (Jennifer Garner) desperately tries to track and control the social media activity of her daughter, Brandy (Kaitlyn Dever), in “Men, Women & Children.” (Dale Robinette/Paramount Pictures)

Men, Women & Children,” Jason Reitman’s adaptation of a novel by Chad Kultgen, gamely recalls the “problem pictures” and socially themed melodramas of the 1940s and ’50s, revisiting the genre with a combination of reflective thoughtfulness and flat-footed earnestness.

An omnibus of interlocking stories set in a prosperous neighborhood in Austin, “Men, Women & Children” chronicles a group of parents and children navigating the wilds of the Internet, often at odds with each other as they search for sex, self- expression, support and celebrity. It’s a portrait that will no doubt resonate with any number of families engaged in nightly battles over Minecraft or wondering what their adolescents are really texting about into the wee hours.

With the moral-panic burner set at a steady low simmer, Reitman’s film at least doesn’t succumb to the hysterically pitched scare tactics of “Disconnect,” a similarly themed drama that came out two years ago. But it taps into the same anxieties, namely the trepidations of parents who, as members of the last generation able to remember a time before Twitter, are trying to guide teenagers hopelessly — and happily — adrift in a sea of flickering screens.

Reitman, who wrote “Men, Women & Children” with Kultgen, does a good job of limning that cultural chasm, artfully staging scenes in a high school with on-screen titles spelling out the catty texts whizzing back and forth during spoken conversations, or floating above students’ heads as they walk zombielike, eyes glued to their phones, between classes.

The kids represented in “Men, Women & Children” largely follow the playbook for cinematic parables of its ilk. There’s a soulful jock who’s just quit the football team (Ansel Elgort), the shy loner with whom he strikes up an unlikely friendship (Kaitlyn Dever), the pretty blonde cheerleader (Olivia Crocicchia) and one of her minions, a fragile-looking, baby-faced striver (Elena Kampouris) who, when tempted by a slice of shepherd’s pie, quickly repairs to her laptop for tips on either leaving it alone or throwing it up. Like “Splendor in the Grass,” one of this film’s most obvious antecedents, “Men, Women & Children” is essentially about who gets to control adolescent desires, and whether they’re indulged, resisted or thwarted.

While the young people of “Men, Women & Children” manage eating disorders, cyberbullying, sexual pressures and the lure of competing online identities, their parents are facing their own problems and temptations: In one of his rare dialed-down, thoroughly appealing performances, Adam Sandler appears with Rosemarie DeWitt as a married couple nervously eyeing Ashley Madison and other sites dedicated to discreet indiscretions. (One of the funniest moments of several in “Men, Women & Children” is when Sandler encounters the drop-down menu for an online escort service.)

Judy Greer portrays a clueless “cool mom” who is obliviously pimping out her daughter by way of an unsettlingly come-hither Web site. In the film’s most caricatured role, Jennifer Garner portrays a woman consumed by worry about social media’s effects on her daughter. Using the full array of tracking software at her disposal, she maniacally tries to patrol a virtual world in which her child has long since figured out how to hide.

Garner is one of the most ham-handedly drawn characters in “Men, Women & Children,” which addresses issues of privacy, protection and self-projection, sometimes with welcome nuance, at others with well-meaning but starchy obviousness. (The latter problem isn’t helped by an arch, cosmically minded voice-over provided by Emma Thompson.) Although Reitman occasionally reverts to the kind of turgid melodrama that made his last film, “Labor Day,” such a slog, this film is brightened by some terrific, alert performances, namely from Sandler and DeWitt, and also the interchanges between Greer and Dean Norris, here playing a hapless single dad.

At its best — and reminiscent of “American Beauty” in the 1990s — “Men, Women & Children” presents a vivid snapshot (er, screen grab?) of its era, distilling myriad aspirations and fears in a portrait as poignant and unconsoling as the indifferent universe described by Thompson in her narration. At its worst, however, “Men, Women & Children” buys into the same kind of Manichean thinking it ascribes to Garner’s pathetically out-of-touch character. To its credit, “Men, Women & Children” seems to allow for a rational middle ground between technophobic Luddites and the lamentably over-wired. It never turns down the moral panic entirely, but neither does it let it completely boil over.

★ ★

R. At Landmark’s E Street Cinema. Contains strong sexual content, including graphic dialogue throughout, some involving teens, and profanity. 119 minutes.