Block vulnerable children's social media, firms are told: Jeremy Hunt suggests sites should stop access if youngster mental health is at risk

  • Health Secretary called on sites to monitor how long youngsters are using them
  • Minister said technology that stops people texting while driving could work?
  • Comes after report showed half of UK's 11 and 12-year-olds are on social media?

Social media firms should limit access to their sites for vulnerable youngsters, Jeremy Hunt has suggested.

The Health Secretary said sites such as Facebook and Twitter are able to monitor whether young people are risking their mental health by spending hours online.

He suggested mobile phone technology that blocks messages from arriving when people are driving could be a potential solution.

Mr Hunt made the comments as he announced a £300million scheme to provide counselling and mental health support for school pupils.

It follows reports that nearly half of 11 and 12-year-olds have accounts on social media, despite a supposed ban on those under 13.

Appearing on ITV's Peston on Sunday, Jeremy Hunt (pictured) called on social media websites to restrict usage for vulnerable youngsters if their mental health was considered to be at risk

Appearing on ITV's Peston on Sunday, Jeremy Hunt (pictured) called on social media websites to restrict usage for vulnerable youngsters if their mental health was considered to be at risk

Figures show that in the past year almost a fifth of 12 to 15-year-olds have seen 'worrying' or 'nasty' material on the internet, amid fears social media may be fuelling child mental health problems and a sharp rise in self-harm among teenage girls.

Asked whether the Government should be tougher on social media firms, Mr Hunt told ITV's Peston on Sunday: 'We know there is a correlation between people who have mental health issues and people who spend a very long time online and it's perfectly possible for a social media platform to monitor if a young person is spending hours and hours online.'

On the responsibility of tech firms, added: 'There are different things they can do but we want to hear from them.

'On my iPhone, for example, there is a new feature which actually stops it sending messages to me when it thinks I'm driving, and if you try and get a message in your car … you have to say, 'I'm not driving'.'

The Health Secretary met with social media firms in October and is set to do so again early in the new year.

The Health Secretary (pictured) said sites such as Facebook and Twitter are able to monitor whether young people are risking their mental health by spending hours online

The Health Secretary (pictured) said sites such as Facebook and Twitter are able to monitor whether young people are risking their mental health by spending hours online

Last month Ofcom reported that one in ten children aged between 12 and 15 have shared live videos of themselves, raising concerns over platforms allowing them to share this footage with strangers.

Mr Hunt said: 'We were very clear with them that if they don't do more to deal with the issue of people lying about their age and then signing up to a Facebook account when they're too young … then we would take action, but we want to give them a chance.'

The Government will today set out in a green paper its plan to bring counselling and cognitive behavioural therapy into the classroom.

Every school will have a mental health 'lead', plus support teams working with school nurses and psychologists.

It is hoped this will encourage children battling anxiety and depression to seek help, as they can talk to professionals in the familiar surroundings of their school rather than an NHS clinic.

But the initiative will reach only a quarter of the country by the end of the current Parliament in 2022.?

The Government is also piloting a four-week maximum waiting time for children and young people's mental health services.

He suggested mobile phone technology that blocks messages from arriving when people are driving could be a potential solution

He suggested mobile phone technology that blocks messages from arriving when people are driving could be a potential solution

But this will have been rolled out across only a fifth of the country by 2022-23.

Mr Hunt added: 'We have lots of fantastic mental health provision in the NHS but one of the areas we don't do as well as we should is getting help to youngsters, teenagers in particular, who need help urgently – and we know that about half of mental health conditions become established before the age of 14.

'If you have a daughter who has anorexia … a son who has OCD [obsessive compulsive disorder], these are horrific conditions and typically you would have to wait six months before getting proper NHS care. That's not good enough.'

Dr Bernadka Dubicka, of the Royal College of Psychiatrists, said: 'One of the biggest problems we see is that children who don't meet thresholds for mental health treatment often fall through the gaps.

It follows reports that nearly half of 11 and 12-year-olds have accounts on social media, despite a supposed ban on those under 13.?Figures also show that in the past year almost a fifth of 12 to 15-year-olds have seen 'worrying' or 'nasty' material on the internet. File image used?

It follows reports that nearly half of 11 and 12-year-olds have accounts on social media, despite a supposed ban on those under 13.?Figures also show that in the past year almost a fifth of 12 to 15-year-olds have seen 'worrying' or 'nasty' material on the internet. File image used?

'It is really promising to see the Government looking to tackle this. But it is crucial that there is enough resource available for the quality of care to remain consistently high.'

An NSPCC spokesman said: 'We have long called for social media companies to better protect all children using their platforms, and there are a number of ways they can do that, such as default privacy settings, content filters and grooming and bullying alerts.

'These should all be enforced by an independent regulator put in place by Government.

'But we must remember the internet can be a lifeline to children … Many young people who contact Childline about anxiety, depression, self-harm and suicide do so via our online channels.'

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