"Online harms" have put "new and heightened pressures" on today's pupils, the education secretary has warned.
Damian Hinds said children were faced with a range of threats including:
- "Curated and altered images" giving the impression that people lead perfect lives
- Harmful material on eating disorders, self-harm and suicide
- "Immersive gaming" and "binge-watching" of streamed TV programmes which can cut people off from human contact
The education secretary said the government would set "clear responsibilities for tech companies" and that such firms should focus on developing "pro-social ends" rather than cultivating a "fear of missing out".
Mr Hinds spoke at the Church of England Foundation for Educational Leadership conference in London this morning, setting out a new government drive on character education.
He said that young people needed character and resilience more than ever to cope with an assortment of new online threats.
Mr Hinds said: “There have always been stresses and pressures with growing up, but for today’s young people there are also new and heightened pressures, partly due to the evolution of technology and media.
He said young people could be "vulnerable to the effects of social media" and the "adverse, artificial impression of curated and altered images, the kind of visual enhancement which depicts people with perfect lives and perfect bodies".
He said that material about "eating disorders, self-harm and even suicide is so much readily accessible than even 10 years ago to children who may already be in a vulnerable phase".
"Then are there are different considerations around deeply immersive gaming, and even with good old television, the arrival of binge-watching, and the shift from lean-back, group consumption to any time, lean forward, heads phones in, lone consumption."
Mr Hinds said he wanted social media companies "to do more in the interests of the next generation".
"Of course that starts with the removal of content that may end up encouraging suicide or self-harm.
"But they should go further. Inside these companies are truly brilliant minds working out how to entice us to use their technology more.
"One of the strongest hooks they use for our attention is the fear of missing out, of constant comparison and I’m afraid therefore also the anxiety that goes with it. We need that genius, that creative energy devoted to pro-social ends for the good of our young people."
He said the Department of Culture Media and Sport and the Home Office would be bringing forward a "range of measures to tackle online harms and set clear responsibilities for tech companies to keep our young people safe".
Asked about his own family's access to technology, Mr Hinds said that his children – aged 9, 7 and 5 – do not currently have phones.
"We do have two Kindles in the house and they are allowed to use them for short periods of time," he said.
"We try to make sure that is for good stuff, because there is, of course, good stuff on the internet and in technology which can be educational.
"Obviously there are limits and you’ve got to have things in proportion."