Family Dinners May Help Teens' Mental Health

First Posted: Sep 01, 2014 11:27 PM EDT

A recent study suggests that family dinners could be good for many teens' mental health.

Researchers found that this type of regular dinner pattern could help prevent bullying and cyberbullying, which occurs in about 1 in 5 adolescents.

Unlike traditional bullying that can be physically dangerous, cyberbullying also carries harsh mental consequences that can directly affect the risk of certain mental health issues. Researchers studied the association between cyberbullying and mental health and substance problems to determine how family dinners could help out.

For the study, researchers examined 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).

Results showed that close to 19 percent of the students reported that they had been a victim of cyberbullying during the previous 12 months. However, researchers also found that family dinners appeared to help moderate the relationship between this issue and other related problems.

"Furthermore, based on these findings, we did not conclude that cyberbullying alone is sufficient to produce poor health outcomes nor that family dinners alone can inoculate adolescents from such exposures," the researchers noted, in a news release. "Such an oversimplified interpretation of these associations disregards other exacerbating and protective factors throughout the social environment. Instead, these findings support calls for integrated approaches to protecting victims of cyberbullying that encompass individual coping skills and family and school social supports."

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