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Original Investigation |

Cyberbullying Victimization and Mental Health in Adolescents and the Moderating Role of Family Dinners

Frank J. Elgar, PhD1,2; Anthony Napoletano, BA1,2; Grace Saul, BA1; Melanie A. Dirks, PhD1; Wendy Craig, PhD3; V. Paul Poteat, PhD4; Melissa Holt, PhD5; Brian W. Koenig, MS6
[+] Author Affiliations
1Institute for Health and Social Policy, McGill University, Montreal, Quebec, Canada
2Douglas Institute, McGill University, Montreal, Quebec, Canada
3Department of Psychology, Queen’s University, Kingston, Ontario, Canada
4Lynch School of Education, Boston College, Chestnut Hill, Massachusetts
5School of Education, Boston University, Boston, Massachusetts
6K12 Associates LLC, Middleton, Wisconsin
JAMA Pediatr. 2014;168(11):1015-1022. doi:10.1001/jamapediatrics.2014.1223.
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Importance  This study presents evidence that cyberbullying victimization relates to internalizing, externalizing, and substance use problems in adolescents and that the frequency of family dinners attenuate these associations.

Objectives  To examine the unique association between cyberbullying victimization and adolescent mental health (after controlling differences in involvement in traditional, face-to-face bullying) and to explore the potential moderating role of family contact in this association.

Design, Setting, and Participants  This cross-sectional, observational study used survey data on 18 834 students (aged 12-18 years) from 49 schools in a Midwestern US state. Logistic regression analysis tested associations between cyberbullying victimization and the likelihood of mental health and substance use problems. Negative binomial regression analysis tested direct and synergistic contributions of cyberbullying victimization and family dinners on the rates of mental health and substance use problems.

Exposures  Frequency of cyberbullying victimization during the previous 12 months; victimization by traditional (face-to-face) bullying; and perpetration of traditional bullying.

Main Outcomes and Measures  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).

Results  About one-fifth (18.6%) of the sample experienced cyberbullying during the previous 12 months. The frequency of cyberbullying positively related to all 11 internalizing, externalizing, and substance use problems (odds ratios from 2.6 [95% CI, 1.7-3.8] to 4.5 [95% CI, 3.0-6.6]). However, victimization related more closely to rates of problems in adolescents that had fewer family dinners.

Conclusions and Relevance  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.

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Figure 1.
Predicted Probabilities of 11 Mental Health and Substance Use Problems in Adolescents by Cyberbullying Victimization

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Figure 2.
Predicted Rates of Internalizing, Externalizing, Substance Use, and Total Problems by Cyberbullying Victimization and Family Dinners per Week
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