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Examining what the U.S. Surgeon General's advisory says about social media for kids

Delaware Public Media

Social media can pose mental health risks to children and teenagers according to an advisory released this week by U.S. Surgeon General Dr. Vivek Murthy, who called on tech companies and policymakers to take “immediate action” to protect children’s mental health.

This week, Delaware Public Media’s Kyle McKinnon spoke with Dr. Leah Orchinik – Pediatric Psychologist at Nemours Children's Health – about the advisory and the impact of social media on youth mental health.

Pediatric Psychologist Dr. Leah Orchinik discusses the U.S. Surgeon General's advisory with Delaware Public Media's Kyle McKinnon

The U.S. Surgeon General is raising the alarm about social media’s negative effect on kids with a recent advisory that warns of the risks social networking sites can pose.

Among other things, the advisory notes social media can perpetuate body dissatisfaction, disordered eating behaviors, social comparison, and low self-esteem.

Dr. Leah Orchinik is a Pediatric Psychologist at Nemours Children’s Health and she believes kids already struggling with anxiety and depression are most vulnerable to these negative effects

But Orchinik adds all kids can be affected by social media.

"For all kids at that age, though brains are developing, kids are comparing themselves to each other anyway, and so when there's content available and targeting kids in such a negative way it can become really dangerous. Especially knowing that the algorithms can then perpetuate what they might have looked at or clicked or liked, and then it kind of feeds into what they might be seeing and then kind of becomes this really, really negative feedback cycle," said Orchinik.

She says signs that social media is becoming a problem include its use getting in the way of daily life, hiding social media use, and continued use when they want to stop or always feel the need to check something.

Orchinik suggests there is a way parents can help their children.

"Creating a family media plan in which everyone's going to follow the rules of: We don't do phones at dinner time, when you're doing homework, we are tech-free, things like that to make sure that it's not interfering with overall functioning for everybody. I think parents can model that," said Orchinik.

Orchinik adds parents should talk to their kids to help them be savvy users while warning them how companies sometimes use algorithms in ways that are not in their best interest.

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Kyle McKinnon is the Senior Producer for The Green with a passion for storytelling and connecting with people.
Joe brings over 20 years of experience in news and radio to Delaware Public Media and the All Things Considered host position. He joined DPM in November 2019 as a reporter and fill-in ATC host after six years as a reporter and anchor at commercial radio stations in New Castle and Sussex Counties.