How family meals can ease online bullying

By Drum Digital
05 September 2014

How often do families really sit around and have dinner together? While some work hard to make it happen every night, in most households it's likely to be increasingly difficult.

Modern lifestyles are busy and full of conflicting schedules, so getting everyone in the same room long enough to eat a meal can be tricky. But new research shows having a family dinner could be the key to happier teens and good mental health.

According to a Canadian study, the support and communication gained from eating with their loved ones could be very effective in helping teens deal with cyberbullying.

Online bullying is a huge issue, with the NSPCC finding that 38 per cent of young people in the UK were affected by it last year.

For the research, which is published in the JAMA Pediatrics, more than 20,000 adolescents were surveyed and exposure to cyber and face-to-face bullying were measured. Teens were also asked about mental health issues, including depression, self-harm, suicidal thoughts and suicide attempts and anxiety. They were then quizzed on how often they eat with their families.

Young people targeted online were 2.6 to 4.5 times more likely to suffer from emotional, behavioural and substance use problems than those who experienced other forms of bullying. These issues were more common in teens who rarely ate family meals, as it's believed their levels of contact and communication were thus reduced and they had less of a chance to reduce the negative effects of cyberbullying.

"One in five adolescents experience cyberbullying," Frank Elgar, a professor in the Department of Psychiatry at McGill University's Faculty of Medicine in Canada, 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."

However, he was quick to add that the research shouldn't be simplified. Just as family dinners alone aren't a magical solution, teens who don't eat evening meals with their families could be supported in other ways, such as receiving parental support during the school run or at a shared breakfast.

"Checking in with teens about their online lives may give them tools to manage online harassment or bullying that can easily go undetected," he added.

- Cover Media

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