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Family Dinners Protect Against Cyberbullying

cyberbullyingAnxiety, depression, disruptive behavior, substance abuse, suicide: These are just some of the potential consequences of adolescent bullying.

Bullying has become easier for the bullies.  While traditional, old-school bullying required more effort and had a public face, cyberbullying can be anonymous and immediate. “Cyberbullying uniquely relates to internalizing, externalizing, and substance use problems in adolescents,” according to a study in the current issue of JAMA Pediatrics.

Researchers surveyed over 20,000 middle and high school students about their history with cyber bullying.  Over 18 percent of students reported some level of victimization during the previous 12 months. Depression, anxiety and substance abuse were the most commonly reported consequences of cyberbullying.

How does a family help to prevent these potentially devastating consequences?  The researchers “hypothesized that cyberbullying relates more closely to health problems among youths who have fewer family dinners.” They suggest that regular, positive family contact and communication may help to stave off negative, internalized effects of cyberbullying.

“With more frequent dinners comes more regular family contact, which facilitates parental guidance and support, open communication with parents and siblings, and opportunities for adolescents to express problems and concerns as they arise,” said the authors, led by Frank J. Elgar, PhD, Institute for Health and Social Policy, McGill University, Montreal. Family dinners “may promote adolescent health and buffer the impact of stressful situations.”

The researchers did not conclude that cyberbullying alone directly leads to these health problems.  Added face-to-face bullying may impact the severity of the consequences.  But regular family communication, most often occurring around the dinner table, is an effective way to find out what’s going on behind closed doors.

“The often-secret online life of teens may require parents to step up their monitoring efforts to detect this covert form of bullying,” said Catherine P. Bradshaw, PhD, MEd, Johns Hopkins Center for the Prevention of Youth Violence. “The frequency of evening family meals predicts adolescent mental health and risk behaviors owing, in part, to family contact and communication and parental involvement.”

-Brad Broker, PND

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