Chuck Bednar for redOrbit.com – Your Universe Online
Regularly eating meals together as a family can provide the social support necessary to help reduce the negative impact that cyberbullying can have on a youngster, according to new research published online Monday in the journal JAMA Pediatrics.
Lead author Frank Elgar, a professor in the McGill University Institute for Health and Social Policy, and his colleagues explained that the exchanges which occur during family meal times can benefit the well-being of adolescents, and this communication and interpersonal contact can reduce some of the distressing effects of cyberbullying.
The researchers examined the link between online bullying and both mental health and substance abuse issues, as well as the effects of family contact and communication which takes place during dinner could have in mitigating those problems. The study looked at the data of more than 18,800 students between the ages of 12 and 18, and found that nearly one-fifth of them (18.6 percent) reported they had experienced cyberbullying over the past year.
Elgar’s team also 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). Cyberbullying was found to be associated with all 11 of those internalizing, externalizing and substance use problems.
However, family dinners appeared to moderate the link between acts of online bullying and the resulting mental health and substance use issues, the study authors said. For instance, there was a four-fold difference in the rates of total problems between no cyberbullying victimization and frequent victimization when there were at least four family dinners per week, but the difference was more than seven-fold when there were no family dinners.
“One in five adolescents experience cyberbullying,” Elgar said in a statement. “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.”
“We found that emotional, behavioral, and substance use problems are 2.6 to 4.5 times more common among victims of cyberbullying, and these impacts are not due to face-to-face bullying; they are specific to cyberbullying,” he added. “The results are promising, but we do not want to oversimplify what we observed. Many adolescents do not have regular family meals but receive support in other ways, like shared breakfasts, or the morning school run.”
Elgar noted the results of the study, which was funded by the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council and Canada Research Chairs, also suggest that parents who are more involved in the lives of their children could go a long way to helping victims of cyberbullying. Touching base with teens or adolescents about their online lives could give them the tools necessary to manage online harassment or cyberbullying that can otherwise go undetected.
In May, researchers from Michigan State University found that socioeconomic status was not a factor in cyberbullying, and that online harassment was just as likely to occur to teenagers living in poor, higher-crime neighborhoods as it was to middle class high-school students living in more affluent areas.
“We found neighborhood conditions that are indicative of poverty and crime are a significant predictor for bullying – not only for physical and verbal bullying, but cyberbullying as well,” said lead researcher Thomas J. Holt, an associate professor of criminal justice at MSU. “This is a very unique and somewhat surprising finding.”