OPELIKA, Ala. (WRBL) –  An East Alabama pediatrician is urging parents to understand the dangers of unrestricted use of smartphones by their kids.

“I think as pediatricians all of us spend a lot of time, encouraging healthy use of electronics,” said Dr. Sara Smith T.

Dr. Sara Smith T, a pediatrician at Pediatric Clinic LLC and mother of six, is raising awareness about the dangers posed by unrestricted smartphone use in children. These threats include excessive screen time, access to inappropriate content, and the impact of social media.

Smith T highlights the alarming statistics of smartphone usage among teens, with 46 percent reporting constant engagement on their devices. On average, 13 to 18-year-olds spend over seven hours a day on their phones. Unrestricted screen time can lead to adverse mental and physical effects such as depression, anxiety, low self-esteem, and disrupted sleep patterns.

“There’s even recently been a national move to wait to buy your child a smartphone until they are in eighth grade. It’s called Wait to Eighth,” she said.

Additionally, Smith T points out the risks associated with unrestricted access to content on smartphones, as children and teens can easily bypass parental controls. Social media platforms, games, and entertainment apps can expose children to triggering content, including violence and adult material, which can harm their mental health.

In late May 2023, the U.S. surgeon general issued an advisory on the detrimental effects of social media on youth mental health. The advisory highlighted issues such as sleep problems, attention difficulties, and feelings of exclusion among adolescents. Smith T emphasizes the addictive nature of social media and the potential harm caused by algorithm-driven content and dangerous viral challenges.

“Any screen use in the hour to two hours before going to sleep impacts your sleep quality. The brain stays awake three hours after the body if you are falling asleep with a cell phone.”

Smith T recommends charging devices in a common area overnight hours before bed. Limit daily screen time to three hours, and include family tech time where everyone can be on their phones in the same room together.

“It’s not too late to sit down with your child and say I love you and I want to prevent these harmful things from happening to you because they are very real dangers,” she said. 

To promote a healthy environment, Smith T recommends implementing the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) family media plan, which advocates for setting digital boundaries. This plan encourages the creation of tech-free zones and designated times for electronics use within families.