July 2021 – Technology addiction is surging as young people are over-relying on technology during a worldwide pandemic.
Combine tech addiction with pandemic-induced isolation, and it’s disastrous. Since the beginning of COVID-19, anxiety and depressive disorders have increased 94% and 84%, respectively, among young adults. Children are experiencing similar effects of the crisis.
Dr. Kathy Koch, founder and president of Celebrate Kids, firmly believes children and families need a rebalance to be both spiritually and physically healthy for the long haul. Koch is passionate about helping children live and flourish in light of the gospel. She spoke with AFA Journal about the emotional and behavioral effects of the pandemic on children and families and how these effects are exacerbated by an overdependency on technology.
AFA Journal: How has the pandemic led to an increase in anxiety and depression among children and youth?
Kathy Koch: Anxiety, depression, stress, and many of the things that go along with that – self-harm, suicidal tendencies, academic apathy, sleep deprivation – it shouldn’t surprise anyone that those things are on the increase in all generations. Young people are used to socialization.
They’re used to being in school. They’re used to having many adults who care about them and speak [life] into them. They’re used to having a peer group, … and when you take away the normal, even for adults, it’s going to change the people.
AFAJ: What does this mean spiritually?
KK: People are questioning whether God is good, and that’s a legitimate question.
We know He’s good because He declares Himself good in the holy Word. He is good when we open our eyes, and we see the entirety of what’s going on. Yet for children, who don’t have years of answered prayers and years of Scripture in their hearts, they’re going to wonder. Young children are really having to question the way the world works.
Parents must hear the heart cries of their children, put their phones down, and lean into their kids and look to have conversations that really matter.
AFAJ: How do parents do this?
KK: Parents need to step up. There’s no verse in the Bible that says the church takes the place of the family. I ask parents, specifically the dad: “Are you doing family devotions?” The response I get all the time is this: “I’m not qualified to do that.”
But there are many things that moms and dads can do with their children such as simply read a Bible verse or a Bible story. There are tons of resources online. Even if parents don’t know much of the Bible themselves, they can learn with their children – which is great.
It’s about the family making sure that the kids have not forgotten the source of life and the source of hope.
AFAJ: What role does technology play in all of this?
KK: Even before COVID, there was research that young people would isolate into their screen. As adults we are guilty of being stressed and playing a game on a device rather than praying or talking to a family member.
One of the concerns about kids and technology is that kids use it as their soothing; it’s almost like a pacifier that keeps them content, quiet, and happy. Now that a lot of young people are using technology for education at home, the additional minutes per day of technology are going to change brain and heart development [even more].
AFAJ: Specifically, how does technology change heart and brain development?
KK: I’ve written a book about this. It’s called Screens and Teens: Connecting with Our Kids in a Wireless World.
In the book, I talk about the five lies that technology can teach children. One of them is “I deserve to be happy all the time.”
Technology is causing them to believe that. Everything is right here, right now. Everything is about me – the selfies, the social media, TikTok, even the reboot button. But I tell young people, their heart does not come with a reboot button.
Another lie is that “I deserve choice.” Everything we use on the computer has a drop-down menu.
You and I know, because we’re older, that choice is a privilege. Young people believe choices are a right since the brain has been wired to expect that. Then their hearts expect to always be given an option, and when mom says no, they really struggle with that.
AFAJ: How can parents help their children who believe these lies?
KK: If kids complain, we look at them and say, “It’s not about being happy all the time. God has asked me to help raise you, and I’m not going to let technology raise you. I want to raise you.”
This is where the parents have to be the parents. Let the kids be upset with you because you’re doing what’s right, not what’s easy.
I tell children all the time, “Do not let Google and Siri raise you, and do not let Google and Siri educate you.” That’s the call to the parent.
AFAJ: How can parents lead by example?
KK: Certainly, we need to get off of our devices. Young people tell me all the time: “Dr. Kathy, my mom watches me put away my phone, and she has her phone in her hand while she tells me that.”
Children will not have in-depth conversations with parents who have a phone nearby. Kids tell me, “I’m not going to start pouring my heart out to my mom if her phone is nearby, because if it pings or dings, she will be distracted. She will turn to her phone, and I’m not going to start that conversation over.”
If you want to get to the heart of your children, you need to leave the phones in another room.
AFAJ: How can both adults and children thrive in a tech-driven world during the wake of a pandemic?
KK: The family unit matters greatly. We have an amazing opportunity to know each other and to be each other’s source of strength and joy in addition to Christ Himself. I want to see families take advantage of that. Let home become what it ought to be, which is the place of nurture.
Counteract your family’s tech dependency
“We are addicted to the adrenaline drip of our devices,” said Dr. Kathy Koch. “Our phone is our everything; it isn’t easy to take it away because we are dependent upon it.
“The Bible is really clear that change requires an exchange (Ephesians 4:22-24). So if you don’t replace the devices with an alternative, you create a vacuum.”
Koch suggests placing alternatives to technology in visible spots throughout the home. Put a board game on the kitchen table. Place a Sudoku book, coloring book, or crossword puzzle book on the coffee table. Have a basketball or frisbee at the backdoor as an invitation to play outside. Do a puzzle, go on a walk, read a book, or weed the garden together.
“Make it easy,” Koch said.
▶ Screens and Teens: Connecting With Our Kids in a Wireless World by Dr. Kathy Koch (Moody Publishers, 2015)
▶ The Tech-Wise Family by Andy Crouch (Baker Books, 2017)
▶ Connect: Real Help for Parenting Kids in a Social Media World (Available at connectmovie.com)