The onslaught of cyberbullying among teenagers in recent years has resulted in a lot of attention on the subject—especially from a mental health perspective. Like traditional, face-to-face bullying, cyberbullying can result in depression, anxiety, substance abuse, and a slew of other common mental health problems. While the benefits of quality family time has been largely hailed for its benefits in raising adolescents, recent research from JAMA Psychiatry is shedding a new light on the impact of family dinners as a helpful resource for teenagers who suffer from cyberbullying. According to the study, published on September 1, regular family dinners can offset the negative effects cyberbullying has on the mental health of teens.

Measuring the Effects of Cyberbullying

Authors of the study set out to observe the relationship between cyberbullying, mental health, substance abuse, and the effects of family interaction through family dinners. In order to analyze how these factors influence each other in adolescents, they recruited 18,834 students between the ages of 12 and 18 from 49 schools in the Midwest. Participants were assessed based on the following:

  • Internalizing Problems: anxiety, depression, self-harm, suicide ideation and suicide attempt
  • Externalizing Problems: fighting and vandalism
  • Substance Abuse Problems: frequent alcohol use, frequent binge drinking, prescription drug misuse and over-the-counter drug misuse

Researchers found that approximately 19% of the participants had been the victim of a cyberbullying experience within the past year. Further, students linked cyberbullying with all three categories of assessment problems, including anxiety, depression, aggression, and substance abuse.

Family Dinners Give Parents the Chance to Support Their Children

When analyzing parents' interaction with their kids, the study found that family dinners moderated the negative mental health effects of cyberbullying. Researchers discovered that those who experienced four or more family dinners per week showed a four-fold difference in the rates of total internal, external, and substance abuse problems—with four family dinner participants experiencing a lower rate of these problems than participants who had less than four family dinners per week. For those who experienced no dinners per week, this difference was seven-fold. These results suggest the significant role family interaction can play in addressing the mental health of teens, and encourage parents to sit down with their children on a daily basis.

Researchers note that while having family dinners is not the sole antidote for treating the anxiety, depression, and substance abuse that can come from cyberbullying, they emphasize the influence the study has on better understanding and treating teen mental health. "These findings support calls for integrated approaches to protecting victims of cyberbullying that encompass individual coping skills and family and school social supports," said the authors of the study.

3 Parenting Tips On How To Talk To Your Kids

Essentially, the family dinner is an opportunity for kids to seek haven in a safe place with supportive people, and for parents to sit with them and see how they're doing. This study advises parents to make the most out of dinner time. Parents can take family dinners a step further by incorporating these three behaviors:

  1. Make dinner an event. Try and spice it up at least once a week. Every Friday could be dinner at your child's favorite restaurant and then a movie. But going out every night isn't an option for most families. Dinner at home can be just as exciting if you invite relatives and friends over, or if you make your child's favorite dish.
  2. Be kind, loving, and supportive. Remember that this is a safe place. The study identifies family dinners as a positive influence on cyberbullied children, so save any lectures or negativity for another time. The last person you want to harass your children is a family member.
  3. Most importantly, listen. Parents can't extract information out of the children. When the time comes, your child will talk. Until then, be patient.

Cyberbullying is much harder to identify than regular bullying—there are no physical scars or bruises. The effects of cyberbullying are psychological and can evolve into offline bullying. Be aware of your child's online behavior and educate them on cyberbullying in hopes of protecting them from victimization before it gets too serious.

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Maisha M. Syeda, MSc.
Sigal Sharf
Sigal Sharf



Lucy Bowes, Dieter Wolke, Carol Joinson, Suzet Tanya Lereya and Glyn Lewis. Sibling Bullying and Risk of Depression, Anxiety, and Self-Harm: A Prospective Cohort Study. Pediatrics, 8 2014 September; DOI:10.1542/peds.2014-0832

Date of original publication:

Updated: March 16, 2017