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Social Media: Children’s Mental Health

Volume 640: debated on Tuesday 8 May 2018

16. What steps he is taking to protect children’s mental wellbeing from the harmful effects of social media. (905174)

We are worried about the effects of social media on children and young people, which is why we have asked the chief medical officer to undertake a systematic review of all the international literature, to help us understand what further steps to take.

I recently met a group of headteachers in Halesowen, who expressed real concern about the effects of social media on the health of their pupils. Does the Secretary of State agree that peer-to-peer support among young people in the classroom and in our communities is a vital way of benefiting young people through the positive aspects of social media and combating the negative effects on their mental health?

My hon. Friend is very knowledgeable about mental health, and I totally agree with him. That is why we have given £700,000 to the Anna Freud Centre to train teachers in how to make possible peer support for children having mental health issues.

Durham police tell me that when there is a problem on social media, particularly Facebook, it can take six months between their asking for action and the social media company tackling it. Will the Secretary of State speak to the Home Office to get the system changed and speed it up?

The hon. Lady is absolutely right. I have spoken to the social media companies. They are brilliant technologists, and they have a duty to their customers to make themselves part of the solution, not part of the problem, when these things happen.

Does the Secretary of State agree that some of this is about ensuring that parents use appropriate techniques—for example, having specific screen times and engaging with their children about what they see on social media—and giving them the tools to do so?

My hon. Friend is absolutely right. Parents play a vital role, but social media companies can make it easier for parents like us to do the right thing, and sometimes the tools that parents need to use are not readily available.

Speak to any young person about what is causing child mental health issues, and the No. 1 issue is not social media, but exam and test pressure in schools, as we have found in the joint inquiry by the Health and Education Committees. Will the Secretary of State be as harsh on his colleagues in the Department for Education as he is on the social media companies when it comes to child mental health?

What we actually now have is a record number of children in good or outstanding schools—nearly 2 million more children. That is something we all want for our children, but when it comes to mental health, the NHS has very specific responsibilities, and we of course look into every possible cause.