Social media companies must do more to help protect young people's mental health rather than "simply being part of the problem", the health secretary has warned.
Jeremy Hunt said that there needed to be a “national conversation” about the links between social media and poor mental health, and urged the “fantastically profitable” companies behind such websites to do more to help.
He also called for mobile phone companies to come up with ways to block young people from “sexting”.
“Why is it that mobile phone companies allow people to send a text with a sexually explicit image in it?" he asked. “Surely, there is absolutely no reason why people under 18 couldn’t just be blocked from sending those kinds of images?
“The point is that technology is the solution to so many things, but we need to challenge social media companies to be part of the solution.”
He said that due to social media, young people are growing up in a world that is “quite different” from the one that his generation grew up in, and that this is having an impact on their general wellbeing.
'There's no escape from cyberbullying'
“When people of our age were being bullied at school you could slam the door and escape from it; spend the weekend with your parents and get away from it,” he said. “But now there is no escape from it; everything is just there constantly in your face.”
Mr Hunt was speaking at an Education Policy Institute (EPI) event in central London on the issue of transforming mental health services for children and young people. The EPI has published a report calling for Ofsted to inspect schools on pupils' wellbeing and mental health.
The Cabinet member added that the rise of social media has encouraged constant comparison – something that is “not healthy”.
Giving an example, he spoke of how some children can no longer simply enjoy being given a Christmas stocking, but have to compare it via social media with all their friends.
“Suddenly, what should have been a wonderful and magical moment for the child is turned into a moment of disappointment,” he said.
“That is a small example, but it’s an indication of how things change in social media. I think social media companies, who are often fantastically profitable companies with a strong social purpose, need to come up with ways where they can be the solution to the problem of mental ill health and not simply the problem.
"And I haven’t heard much constructive thinking.”