While the busy schedules of American families might have you believing that most don’t have time to gather regularly for dinner, let alone sit at the table, recent studies show positive numbers for how often families eat and sit together.
Though it might seem like an antiquated activity with sports practice, homework and smartphones buzzing well into the evening, the health benefits of families eating dinner together continues to be seen.
Most recently, a study showed that regular family meals can help protect children from the effects of bullying, especially the more “covert” form of online bullying.
“One in five adolescents experience cyberbullying,” McGill University professor Frank Elgar, who is also a researcher at the Douglas Mental Health Institute, said in a statement. “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.”
Regular meals together — or other involved activities — can help parents identify these problems or provide teens with the tools they need to cope, the study authors said.
Elgar’s research surveyed more than 18,000 teens in Wisconsin, measuring exposure to cyber and traditional bullying, their mental health and their familial habits. Overall, more concerning issues were associated with the victims of cyberbullying compared to traditional face-to-face bullying.
“We found that emotional, behavioral and substance use problems are 2.6 to 4.5 times more common among victims of cyberbullying,” Elgar said.
According to the study published in the journal Pediatrics, regularly gathering around the table seemed to be associated with a reduced rate of problems in teens experiencing cyberbullying.
“[…] 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. 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,” the study authors said.
As Elgar put it, parents regularly checking in with their children regarding what is going on online can help “give them tools to manage online harassment or bullying that can easily go undetected.”
“The often-secret online life of teens may require parents to step up their monitoring efforts to detect this covert form of bullying,” Catherine Bradshaw with Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health said in a commentary about the study.
According to the Family Dinner Project, other positives that come with eating family meals include lower rates of eating disorders and teen pregnancy as well as higher GPAs and self-esteem.