A great deal of emphasis has been place on the importance of the family meal. Everything from child depression, to adolescent substance abuse and delinquency, has somehow been associated with the amount of times a family sits down to dinner together. More recently the statistics have allowed for other meals during the day to factor into whatever the prescribed number of meals together have been. While I am an advocate for any opportunity families have to be together, I suspect this advice has been stressful for some parents who find it difficult, if not impossible, to gather the entire family around the dinner table.
If you are one of those parents who struggle to get in the requisite family meals per week and falls short, don’t be too hard on yourself. As researchers at Cornell University have discovered, families who dine together also have many other similarities. They tend to be those who have more resources in general, such as time and money. They also appear to be 2 parent families where the mother is not employed outside the home.
The traits these families had in common were a desire to have open communication with their children and to make family togetherness a priority. These practices are part of a larger parenting style that in my estimation accounts for better teen outcomes. In the absence of these things it seems clear that family meals would not suffice to give teens the structure they need.
What this information should convey to parents is that simply sitting down to dinner at least 3 nights a week will not stave off teenage strife and if you are unable to realistically make those dinners happen then there are other ways to stay connected to your children. It is ultimately about quality time spent together in general, and with teenagers in particular many parents find that the easiest way to accomplish that is over a meal.
If these times together can’t be scheduled during a meal, then carve out alternative time together, as a family, during the week. Make that time a priority where the focus is on checking in and staying current on each others lives. By all means if you can do this over the dinning table then dig in, otherwise, regardless of busy schedules, make family time a habit in your home.
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