Stories about: Ask the Mediatrician

Ask the Mediatrician: How does social media affect body image?

Michael RichQ: I am a 7th grader working on an independent research project about whether using social media can be addictive and how using social media affects adolescent girls’ body image. What does the scientific research show? And how can I learn more about this?

~ Scrutinizing Social Media, Wellesley, MA

Dear Scrutinizing,

As a seventh grader, this is an important topic for you to research and to teach your friends about, since you are turning 13, the age at which you are legally able to be using social media. First, let’s address whether social media are “addictive”. We need to be careful about using stigmatizing terms such as “addiction” when discussing behaviors, such as using social media, as they are not exactly the same as addictions to substances, such as alcohol or drugs. While there are social media behaviors that can be compulsive and excessive, such as constantly checking updates, counting “likes” or changing what you have posted, even late into the night, they are qualitatively different. Physical changes occur in the body of a heroin or alcohol addict which cause them to need more of the substance all the time to feel okay and which cause them to be really sick and need medical intervention when they cannot get heroin or alcohol. The psychological need to be on social media more and more, and the anxiety that may occur when not online, are not physical and can be overcome without medical care. Nevertheless, there are many young people who have an attachment to their online lives, whether it be to social media or gaming, that is unhealthy and can cause them significant problems with school performance, social life, and even physical health. They need help to regain balance in their lives, but I am concerned that using the negative term “addiction”, will only lead to denial (most addicts don’t think they have a problem) and not seeking the care and support that they need.

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Are websites like “Animal Jam” appropriate for tweens and young children?

Michael RichQ: Is Animal Jam an appropriate website for tweens and children as young as 5-year-olds? As a parent and librarian, I am concerned by a number of Animal Jam’s features, such as pushing players to purchase items within the website, and am skeptical as to the site’s “educational” value, even though it is associated with National Geographic. Is it ok for kids to be on the site?

– Jammed Online, USA

A: Dear Jammed,

Animal Jam is just one of many kid-oriented websites that present themselves as both free and educational, largely so that parents will allow their children to use them. Their association with a larger, well-known educational entity, such as National Geographic, is typical of these sites. They often purchase a sponsorship from a reputable, often non-profit institution for added credibility—even though they are not, in fact, part of that larger institution.

You are correct in noting that sites like these require some media literacy skills to fully understand how they work. These types of websites are called “freemium” sites, which means that while entry is free, you need to pay for “premium service” or additional features, as you and your children discovered with Animal Jam. Freemium sites for kids are designed to engage their imagination and desire for more. This tactic is common in the marketing world and is appropriately called the “nag factor” where a child nags a parent to buy a product or service—or, in this case, premium features.

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What Can I do to Protect My Kids from Seeing Inappropriate Fashion Catalogs?

Michael RichQ: I recently received the Spring 2015 Catalog from the department store Barneys New York. The catalog was sent to my house without any envelope or sleeve to protect it from being opened by kids, even though it contains pictures that I believe are inappropriate for young children. What can be done to prevent such mailings in the future? Are there any laws that govern how such catalogs are sent?

– Mad about mail, USA

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Ask the Mediatrician: How can I maintain my 5-year-old’s interest in age-appropriate Legos?


Q: My Lego-loving 5-year-old son is now interested in the Lego Ninjago series (influenced by his 7-year-old cousin). I have tried to keep him from Ninjago as it seems to me to be inappropriate for his age. Currently, all of his Lego building has been with the City series. I believe he looks at Ninjago as the “next level” and wants to be considered “big enough” to play with it. How can I keep him interested in his current Legos?

Lost about Lego, USA

A: Dear Lost,

This question showcases an experience that many parents face when dealing with brands and products that are structured for consumers (children) to “level up”. You are correct in realizing that you, as a parent, have a responsibility to monitor and help direct your son’s play in ways that are developmentally optimal. Part of that responsibility is recognizing when certain toys, experiences, and activities would not be beneficial (or could be harmful) for your child to engage with.

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