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Family Meals May Protect Kids from Online Bullying

Update Date: Sep 01, 2014 05:12 PM EDT

Kids who eat with their family are less likely to be victims of cyberbullying, according to a new study.

Researchers said the latest findings suggest that eating with mom and dad can help protect children against online bullying.  Lead researcher Frank Elgar, a professor at McGill University's Institute for Health and Social Policy believe this is because family meal times can symbolize social support and communication in the home that benefit adolescents' well-being,

Elgar and his team said that the findings suggest that positive family interactions can also help alleviate some of the distressing effects of online bullying.

"One in five adolescents experience cyberbullying," Elgar, who is also a researcher at the Douglas Mental Health Institute, said in a news release. "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."

The latest study involved 20,385 adolescents in the state of Wisconsin. Participants were asked to fill out surveys that measured their experiences with online bullying and traditional (face-to-face) bullying. The survey also measured participants' mental health outcomes, including depression, anxiety, substance use, self-harm, suicidal thoughts, and suicidal attempts.

"We found that emotional, behavioral, and substance use problems are 2.6 to 4.5 times more common among victims of cyberbullying," said Elgar. "And these impacts are not due to face-to-face bullying; they are specific to cyberbullying"

"The results are promising, but we do not want to oversimplify what we observed," he added, "Many adolescents do not have regular family meals but receive support in other ways, like shared breakfasts, or the morning school run."

Researchers said the findings suggest that parental involvement and supervision can really benefit kids exposed bullying.

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

The findings are published in the journal JAMA Pediatrics.

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