Family dinners matter

It’s so easy to kill dinner hour, especially when your teen criticizes that chicken creation you’ve struggled to put on the table. And then there are all the activities that have teens running in or out at all hours making it nearly impossible to get everyone at the table at the same time.

Believe me, I’ve thought about telling my kids to fend for themselves for dinner. But I’ve resisted. Watching a special report on ABC News last night, I’m glad I’m a family dinner hold out.

Here are the big benefits of family dinners:

  • Compared to teens who ate with their families five to seven times a week, teenagers who had fewer than three family dinners a week were almost four times more likely to try tobacco, more than twice as likely to use alcohol and 2.5 times more likely to use marijuana.
  • Teens who eat with their families make healthier food choices when eating out with their peers.
  • Female teens who ate family dinners at least most days were less likely to initiate purging, binge-eating and frequent dieting.

Of course, some teens, especially those with driver’s licenses, think it’s “not cool” to eat dinner with their families. Seventeen-year-old Ben Smith had this comment on “You know if I’m sitting at the dinner table my parents are going to ask me, ‘How’d you do at school today,'” he says. “You don’t really want to tell them, ‘Oh, I failed three tests.’ ”

Let’s say you like the idea of family dinners, but don’t really think it’s doable. William Doherty, a professor of family social science at the University of Minnesota advises starting on a Sunday night. “One (dinner) a week is better than zero. It’s quality, not quantity.”

He has more advice: Turn the television off, put all cellphones away and have kids talk about the best and worst thing that happened in their day.

This might be tough for parents, but Doherty says don’t use the sit-down meal as an opportunity to nag or scold.  “Make it a connecting meal. It’s the quality of the connecting. Just try to have a good conversation. Don’t grill them about their grades.”

What are your thoughts on the family dinner hour? Do you think it’s unrealistic these days to get everyone at the table? Do you REALLY think it makes a difference in whether a teen will drink or do drugs?

Click here to see the ABC News segment.

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  1. Allie September 23, 2011 at 6:22 pm

    your posts are always ones that I find thoughtful and something I often think about. This post is something that i’ve always thought about. While I used to think those stats were crazy, I find myself looking back at my own childhood family dinners. Being the youngest of 7- sometimes that was the only time to get your time to talk to everyone. We aired our problems, bragged about successes, and learned things about each other. We had to ask to be excused and had to load our dishes. When I was 8 and my parents seperated, we all avoided the dinner table and “family time” like it carried a disease. My two brothers who were going through their teens years- fell into those statistics. The rest of my siblings were past their teens years and were starting families of their own building their own family dinner traditions. I watched two boys who told their mother everything turn cold and hold everything inside. They had the ability to walk through the days without sharing a thing. And once the cycle was broken, it was too late to pull it back in. They started realizing tehy could say no and just not come to dinner. Years later (both in their 30’s) are starting to forgive my parents and starting to in a small way open up again. I think they miss having time to share.

    While I don’t think this means EVERYONE will fall into the statistics, I have seen first hand how it can. It doesn’t mean you can’t build that time into somewhere else. All I know is after my experiences, family dinners are a must as long as possible.

    Thanks for a great blog!

  2. raisingteensblogger September 23, 2011 at 10:19 pm

    Thank you so much for your perspective. I now feel more committed than ever to keeping family dinners going in my home.


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