Cyberbullying is bullying through the use of electronic technology such as computers and cell phones. Over 95% use social networking sites. Almost 43% have been bullied online with one in four kids saying it has happened more than once. Just like traditional bully it can increase the risk of mental health problems such as depression and anxiety. Cyberbullying victimization relates to internalizing, externalizing, and substance use problems in adolescents and that the frequency of family dinners undermines these associations.
Dr. Frank Elgar, PhD, researcher at the Douglas Institute, associate professor, department of psychiatry and Institute for Health and Public Policy, McGill University and author of this study along with colleagues examined the association between cyberbullying and mental health and substance use problems, as well any moderation of the effects by family contact and communication through family dinners.
The study included survey data on 18,834 students (ages 12-18) from 49 schools in a Midwestern state. The authors 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).
The results showed almost 19% of the student’s re-posted experiencing cyberbullying during the previous year. Cyberbullying was associated with five internalizing mental health problems (anxiety, depression, self-harm, suicide ideation, and suicide attempt), 2 externalizing problems (fighting and vandalism), and 4 substance use problems (frequent alcohol use, frequent binge drinking, prescription drug misuse, and over-the-counter drug misuse).
Family dinners appeared to moderate the relationship between cyberbullying and the mental health and substance use problems. For example, with four or more family dinners per week there was about a 4-fold difference in the rates of total problems between no cyberbullying victimization and frequent victimization. When there were no dinners the difference was more than 7-fold.
In their conclusion the team writes "Cyberbullying relates to mental health and substance use problems in adolescents, even after their involvement in face-to-face bullying is taken into account. Although correlational, 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."
In a related editorial, Catherine P. Bradshaw, Ph.D., M.Ed., of the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, Baltimore, writes: “The article by Elgar and colleagues highlights the importance of cyberbullying in relation to mental health concerns, with particular interest in the role of families. Their focus on cyberbullying is salient because this is an issue that often challenges schools and policy makers given that it can occur in any context and at any time of the day, and it often spills over from one setting to another.”
“The permeability of cyberbullying across contexts and the omnipresence of technology, coupled with the challenges parents face monitoring online activities and communication, make it a particularly appropriate focus of this study. In fact, parents may play a greater role in preventing and helping to intervene in cyberbullying situations than educators owing in part to their direct influence over youths’ access to electronic devices.”
Dr. Bradshaw notes “The often-secret online life of teens may require parents to step up their monitoring efforts to detect this covert form of bullying.”
This study is published in JAMA Pediatrics.