When cyberbullying hurts, family dinners can help

Sept. 16, 2014—Cyberbullying might not involve getting pantsed in the locker room—kids bullied online might be forced to deal with nasty messages, embarrassing pictures or fake profiles instead. But cyberbullying can feel just as devastating for kids. And while there’s no simple way to erase virtual harassment completely, new research suggests that family dinners can help picked-on adolescents cope.

About the study

To find out whether family contact helps kids who have been cyberbullied, researchers analyzed survey data on nearly 19,000 students aged 12 to 18. Nearly a fifth of adolescents surveyed reported experiencing some form of cyberbullying within the past 12 months—and it affected them in several ways. Compared to kids who weren’t picked on, cyberbullied tweens and teens were more likely to experience mental health problems like anxiety, depression or self-harm; more likely to engage in fighting or vandalism; and more likely to drink alcohol or abuse drugs.

But amidst the troubling findings, there was some good news. Among cyberbullied kids, those who regularly ate dinner with their families were less susceptible to virtual harassment’s harmful effects. The findings suggest that family contact and communication can make bullying less difficult for adolescents to deal with.

Read a summary of the study, published in JAMA Pediatrics, here.

The take-home message
Cyberbullying can harm kids’ self-esteem and health, which can lead to things like poor grades, skipping school, and drug and alcohol use. But the close contact and communication that come from family dinners appear to help cyberbullied kids cope better.

What’s more, teaching all adolescents about responsible texting and Internet use—as well as monitoring their virtual communications closely—can also make a difference. Here’s what parents should know:

  • Get smart about social media. Learn which platforms your child uses, and learn how to use them. Have profiles on each, and make a policy that you and your child have to friend or follow each other.
  • Emphasize that the Internet is permanent. Remind your child to avoid sending texts or posts that could be hurtful or embarrassing, since posts can’t always be erased, and they can quickly be shared with anyone in the world.
  • Establish rules about technology use. Set time limits for social media and Internet use, and be clear about what your child is and isn’t allowed to do online.
  • Ask about your child’s online activities. Use social media as a springboard to ask what your child has been up to. What was posted today? Who sent text messages?
  • Monitor activity. Tell your child that you’ll periodically check text logs and social media posts, and be sure to follow through.

Finally, know the signs that could indicate trouble. If you notice that your child is skipping activities in favor of social media, having trouble in school or experiencing other issues due to spending too much time online, talk about it openly, first with your child and then with your child’s pediatrician. Teachers and administrators may also need to get involved if your child is being bullied online and that activity breaks school policy.

Bullying could harm your child’s long-term health—learn what you can do to stop it here.


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