Gather Round the Family Dinner Table: Why It Matters
Gather 'Round the Family Dinner Table
When was the last time you had dinner with your family? I'm not talking about a dinner you grab while on the go in your car. That doesn't count.
I mean the real, sit-down type of dinner where you can look into each other's eyes and talk about your day. It is the meal we often gloss over because we work late, the kids have sporting events or we get tired from daily activities. But, missing the family dinner might not be where you want to skimp.
More than Just a Meal
Family dinners are more than just a meal. It's a time to connect, share and create memories. It's important that you are together. Whether light-hearted conversations are taking place, or you are laughing about something silly that happened during the day, family dinners matter.
Just the Facts
The facts speak for themselves. We know that kids teens who spend dinner time eating with their family are less likely to get involved in drugs, alcohol or other illicit activity. They are also less likely to suffer from depression. Yet, family dinners are the thing we most often feel are expendable when faced with our overloaded schedules.
What's the Big Deal?
What's the big deal, anyways? Why is dinner so important?
For one thing, it is a time to share thoughts and feelings. All day, kids are influenced by teachers, friends and the outside world. At the dinner table, they get a chance to connect with their parents on tough issues like schoolwork, peer pressure, friendships and other things. They can each share and help one another with helpful suggestions.
Talk, Talk, Talk
The main point is that conversation is taking place. The average parent talks to their child less than 40 minutes a week. It takes a second to say “hi” when you come in at night, but that isn’t effective communication. When dinner is shared by the family, you spend at least 45 minutes to an hour talking about both little and big things...which all adds up to being a big deal.
Young children learn how to communicate with their siblings and parents. They are the center of attention with questions about their day and it contributes to their self-esteem. This time of connectedness is an important aspect of their developing sense of self.
For teenagers, body image is a big deal. Home cooked family meals are typically healthier than frozen or fast food meals, contributing to the overall health of all who partake in them. Teen are less likely to become the victim of an eating disorder when they eat dinner with their families. But the good news doesn't stop there.
So important is the family meal to teens, that is one of the strongest predictors of a teen's well-being and success, and these benefits are true regardless of other demographic dimensions. According to (Apa.org, 2017):
"Narratives told around the family dinner table may be especially critical for adolescents. The National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse at Columbia University (CASA) has found that children who have a regular family mealtime are less likely to smoke, drink, use illegal drugs, experiment with sex at a young age, or get into fights. Further, these children are at lower risk for suicidal thoughts and are more likely to do better in school. Teens that have frequent family dinners are more likely to be emotionally content, to work harder, to have positive peer relationships, and to have healthier eating habits. Family mealtime is the single strongest predictor of academic achievement scores and low rates of behavioral problems, regardless of race, gender, education, age of parents, income, or family size. Mealtime is a more powerful predictor of these child outcomes than time spent in school, studying, at church, or playing sports. Clearly, something is happening at the family dinner table that builds positive skills and behaviors and creates resilience to the stress of adolescence. We think one of the most important aspects of dinner table interaction is the telling of family narratives."Family Meals Matter
From teaching youngsters manners, appropriate communication and building self-esteem, all the way to building in protective factors for our teens...family meals matter.
Find a way to make family meals a priority. It makes a difference!
Apa.org. (2017). CYF News Summer06. [online] Available at: https://www.apa.org/pi/families/resources/newsletter/2006/08/summer.pdf [Accessed 6 Nov. 2017].
Fulkerson, J., Story, M., Mellin, A., Leffert, N., Neumark-Sztainer, D. and French, S. (2006). Family Dinner Meal Frequency and Adolescent Development: Relationships with Developmental Assets and High-Risk Behaviors. Journal of Adolescent Health, 39(3), pp.337-345.
Hennessy, E., Dwyer, L., Oh, A. and Patrick, H. (2017). Promoting family meals: a review of existing interventions and opportunities for future research. 115-131
Wendy Young, LMSW, BCD, is the founder of Kidlutions and co-author of BLOOM: 50 Things to Say, Think and Do with Anxious, Angry and Over-the-Top Kids, co-creator of BLOOM Brainsmarts, and creator of The Joyful Parent. She is the creator of numerous workbooks and resources to help from the preschool through the teen years.