The effects of cyberbullying among children could be reduced by sharing regular family meals, according to recent study findings published in JAMA Pediatrics.
“One in five adolescents experience cyberbullying,” Frank J. Elgar, PhD, of the Institute for Health and Social Policy at McGill University in Canada, said in a press release. “Many adolescents use social media, and online harassment and abuse are difficult for parents and educators to monitor, so it is crucial to identify protective factors for youths who are exposed to cyberbullying.”
Elgar and colleagues evaluated 20,385 adolescents to determine the effect of frequent family meals on reducing the effects of cyberbullying on their mental health. Researchers measured exposures of cyberbullying and traditional (face-to-face) bullying, as well as a range of mental health outcomes — depression, anxiety, substance use, self-harm, suicidal thoughts and suicidal attempts.
Nearly 19% of participants reported a depressive episode, whereas suicide attempts (4.8%) and the misuse of over-the-counter drugs (5.1%) and prescription drugs (6.4%) also were reported.
In the previous 12 months, 18.6% of participants experienced cyberbullying. Girls were more likely to experience cyberbullying than boys (OR=2.95; 95% CI, 2.54-3.44). The odds of cyberbullying increased with each increased year of age (OR=1.07; 95% CI, 1.03-1.11) and with involvement in traditional bullying, as the target (OR=1.37; 95% CI, 1.33-1.4) or aggressor (OR=1.12; 95% CI, 1.08-1.16).
Mental health and substance use problems seemed to be moderated by family dinners. There was about a fourfold difference in rates of total problems between no cyberbullying victimization and frequent victimization with four or more family dinners per week. However, with no family dinners, the difference was more than sevenfold.
“Cyberbullying uniquely relates to internalizing, externalizing and substance use problems in adolescents,” the researchers wrote. “The associations are not explained by involvement in traditional (face-to-face) forms of bullying. However, their strength is moderated by the frequency of family dinners. Health care professionals should be aware of the potential health risks associated with cyberbullying and the benefits associated with regular and frequent family contact. Further study is needed to identify other paths through which social support can protect adolescents from the risks associated with online bullying.”
In an accompanying editorial, Catherine P. Bradshaw, PhD, MEd, of the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, wrote that the study present important findings between the link to cyberbullying and mental health concerns, as well as the important role of families.
“The current findings suggest that the relatively simple parenting behavior of regularly eating dinner together (eg, four or more times a week) may provide more opportunities for youth disclosure of bullying events,” she wrote. “Thus, the family dinner could serve as a venue for parents to promote coping strategies that offset the impact of cyberbullying and possible even prevent bullying before it starts.”
For more information:
Bradshaw CP. JAMA Pediatrics. 2014;doi:10.1001/jamapediatrics.2014.1627.
Elgar FJ. JAMA Pediatrics. 2014;doi:10.1001/jamapediatrics.2014.1223.
Disclosure: The study was funded in part by the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council and Canada Research Chairs Programme.