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Next Big Epidemic Is Hurting Even Very Young Kids

Photograph by Twenty20

There's an epidemic among children and young adults that's changing the brains of very young children and some adults, and it's the result of perfectly legal thing: small screens.

So while you may think your child's use of the iPad is precocious or that you just downloaded an educationally enriching app, what's really happening, according to recent brain imaging research, isn't unlike what would happen if your child snorted cocaine.

Most parents know that once you introduce a phone or iPad or handheld gaming device into the kid's environment, there's basically no going back—not if you don't want to hear incessant whining or witness endless tantrums. But it's not that kids are demanding little brats. No, the research shows is that they're little addicts, and they need their next fix.

RELATED: Japan's Screen-Addicted Kids Are Getting Help

Digital devices goes at the part of the brain that controls, well, self-control, in the same way that cocaine does. Technology stimulates the front cortex and raises dopamine levels, which send out the feel-good neurotransmitters that play a huge role in addiction.

In his book, "Glow Kids: How screen addiction is hijacking our kids—and how to break the trance," Nicholas Kardaras, executive director of the rehabilitation center The Dunes East Hampton and a former clinical professor at Stony Brook Medicine, has seen kids as young as 4 and 5 showing signs of addiction. Kardaras writes that key for children is to not let them get addicted in the first place.

He says parents need to have conversations about tech use and explain why they're limiting their access to screens. "That means Lego instead of 'Minecraft'; books instead of iPads; nature and sports instead of TV. If you have to, demand that your child’s school not give them a tablet or Chromebook until they are at least 10 years old (others recommend 12)," he writes in the New York Post.

RELATED: Knowing When You And Your Child Should Turn Off The Screen

He suggests eating dinner together often (and not allowing screens at the table)—and also that adults not check out with devices, ourselves.

He points out, as many others have, that tech giants like Steve Jobs and other Silicon Valley executives who created these devices and their apps understood their power—and detriments—and, therefore, sent their own children to schools where tech devices were not allowed.

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