As simple as it sounds, making family dinner with your teen a routine provides a double benefit as the support helps adolescents cope with cyberbullying and improves their overall mental health.
Researchers from McGill University studied the association between cyberbullying and mental health and substance use problems, and, if family contact and communication with a teen via family dinners would make a difference.
As a background, researchers were aware that about one in five adolescents has experienced recent online bullying and cyberbullying, like traditional bullying, can increase the risk of mental health problems in teens as well as the misuse of drugs and alcohol.
Frank J. Elgar, Ph.D., and colleagues reviewed included survey data on 18,834 students (ages 12-18) from 49 schools in a Midwestern state.
The authors measured five internalizing problems (anxiety, depression, self-harm, suicide ideation and suicide attempt), two externalizing problems (fighting and vandalism) and four substance use problems (frequent alcohol use, frequent binge drinking, prescription drug misuse, and over-the-counter drug misuse).
They discovered nearly 19 percent of the students reported they had experienced cyberbullying during the previous 12 months.
Cyberbullying was associated with all 11 of the internalizing, externalizing, and substance use problems.
Family dinners appeared to moderate the relationship between cyberbullying and the mental health and substance use problems.
For example, with four or more family dinners per week there was about a four-fold difference in the rates of total problems between no cyberbullying victimization and frequent victimization.
When there were no dinners the difference was more than seven-fold.
“Furthermore, based on these findings, we did not conclude that cyberbullying alone is sufficient to produce poor health outcomes nor that family dinners alone can inoculate adolescents from such exposures,” says Elgar.
Indeed, researchers say the associations represent a complex social environment.
Nevertheless, the findings support calls for integrated approaches to protecting victims of cyberbullying that encompass individual coping skills and family and school social supports.
Research findings are published online in JAMA Pediatrics.
In a related editorial, Catherine P. Bradshaw, Ph.D., M.Ed., of the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, Baltimore, writes, “The article by Elgar and colleagues highlights the importance of cyberbullying in relation to mental health concerns, with particular interest in the role of families.
“Their focus on cyberbullying is salient because this is an issue that often challenges schools and policy makers given that it can occur in any context and at any time of the day, and it often spills over from one setting to another.”
“The permeability of cyberbullying across contexts and the omnipresence of technology, coupled with the challenges parents face monitoring online activities and communication, make it a particularly appropriate focus of this study.
“In fact, parents may play a greater role in preventing and helping to intervene in cyberbullying situations than educators owing in part to their direct influence over youths’ access to electronic devices,” Bradshaw said.
“The often-secret online life of teens may require parents to step up their monitoring efforts to detect this covert form of bullying,” she said.
Source: The JAMA Network Journals