Tech addiction grows during the pandemic

Kids are more reliant on tech now than ever before.
Families tackle tech addiction during pandemic.
Posted at 5:00 AM, Mar 18, 2021

COLORADO SPRINGS — Over the past year, depression and anxiety among kids have skyrocketed and experts say their reliance on tech for school and play has a part.

So we are exploring the world of tech addiction, as one expert said it’s the new “gateway drug” and exploring ways we can rebound from it.

The Simmonds family is no stranger to tech.

“I think it’s easy to get addicted to electronics,” dad of four, David Simmonds, said.

The kids go to school online due to the pandemic, then they have to play with their friends online when school is out.

“Their whole world is all online. Their schools, their friends, everything is all online and we’ve definitely noticed change in their behavior,” mom Nicole Simmonds said.

Excessive screen time poses a big issue for families all over.

Fast Facts on Tech
Some stats on tech and addiction.

Many of us became more reliant on tech during the pandemic, and these new habits can be hard to quit.

“As soon as iPads came out, Steve Jobs didn’t let his own daughter have one,” Joshua Andrus said.

Andrus is an addiction specialist for the government and also founded the grassroots organization “Parents Overcoming Electronics.”

Addiction specialist Joshua Andrus talks with News 5's Elizabeth Watts
Addiction specialist Joshua Andrus talks with News 5's Elizabeth Watts

“It has the dopamine reward circuit, so basically, you get that rush, you get that high,” Andrus said, “It’s so much faster. It’s not the law of the harvest where you sow and reap eight months later. It’s this really rapid dopamine reward, same as gambling addiction where you pull the handles.”

Andrus said between cell phones, laptops, tablets, and all the gaming, tech has become the new gateway drug.

“Because our brain starts to get wired addictively this way. So when other drugs come to soothe the emotional pain the same way the devices soothe the emotional pain it becomes addictive,” Andrus said.

We also spoke with Doctor Jenna Glover, the Director of Psychology Training at Children’s Hospital who further explained the addictive properties. She said later when you feel something negative or hard to cope with you just want to escape.

“What happens is that when they immediately escape from it and they don’t have the chance to go through it, whenever they face that again, they’re less likely to feel that they can handle it and they’re going to use that go-to {tech},” Dr. Glover said. “So, we end up using screens as kind of a crutch and it turns into an addiction.”

She said the numbers show how hard these times have been on our kids.

“We are seeing over the last six months an increase in both anxiety and depression. The numbers are probably doubling among children that we would typically see,” Dr. Glover added.

Dr. Jenna Glover talks with News 5's Elizabeth Watts about tech addiction.
Dr. Jenna Glover talks with News 5's Elizabeth Watts about tech addiction.

Glover said when it comes to too much screen time, parents may notice increased irritability or sleep problems with their children.

The most important thing you can do is really focus on building out time to connect off-screen.

Structure also really helps kids’ mental health.

“If that’s something like- you eat dinner with every other every night, or if you have movie night every Friday night, whatever it is- there's something you can build in day-to-day or in your weeks that are predictable for your children,” Glover said, “That’s very helpful.”

Andrus worries that this tech addiction may create real problems down the road.

“When kids go to interviews and there’s just not that connection with the interviewer because that’s just not been developed,” Andrus said, “but also- when they’re going around other people. We’ve seen some crimes that have come from teenagers that just didn’t have that empathy at the far extremes.”

It’s easy to bully online too when you are talking behind a screen and not face to face.

The Simmonds family said they try to limit tech time. They don’t allow electronics at the dinner table to try and create more quality family time.

“We push them outside. We tell them, you don’t need to be on that today, go outside, get some fresh air,” David Simmonds said, “And we play a lot of family board games.”

“The girls like to do crafty stuff,” Nicole Simmonds added, “They like to do tie-dye and things.”

Parents are also encouraged to give themselves grace too. It’s just a fact of life right now there will be more screen time, and the fact you’re even thinking about it can make a difference.

Families tackle tech addiction during pandemic.
Teens and kids are more reliant on tech now than ever before.

Andrus has a couple of e-books that tackle these issues that you can download and read to your kids for free. Click here for more.

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