Family meals could reduce effects of teen online bullying

Sharing family meals can help protect teenagers from the distressing effects of cyberbullying, according to a new study.

Researchers from the US and Canada asked nearly 19,000 12 to 18-year-olds in the state of Wisconsin questions about their experience of cyberbullying and a range of issues, including mental health and substance abuse problems.

The study, published this week in the Journal of the American Medical Association Pediatrics, found that around a fifth of adolescents (18.6 per cent) had been bullied online in the previous twelve months.

Problems

Emotional, behavioural and substance use problems were more common among victims of cyberbullying, researchers found.

But eating four or more family dinners per week almost halved the risk of cyberbullying victims developing mental health or substance abuse problems.

The study concluded, “these results suggest that family dinners (ie, family contact and communication) are beneficial to adolescent mental health and may help protect adolescents from the harmful consequences of cyberbullying”.

Abuse

Frank Elgar, a professor in the Department of Psychiatry at McGill University’s Faculty of Medicine in Canada, led the research.

He said: “Many adolescents use social media, and online harassment and abuse are difficult for parents and educators to monitor, so it is critical to identify protective factors for youths who are exposed to cyberbullying.”

He added: “Checking in with teens about their online lives may give them tools to manage online harassment or bullying that can easily go undetected.”

Prof Elgar also warned that they do not want to “oversimplify” what they observed in the study.

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