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Family dinners matter

Family dinner
One night, I invited my son's friend over for dinner. When he took his seat at our family dinner table, he told us this was new to him. At his house, he said, he usually eats sitting on the couch by himself watching television. My kids didn't know how to react. I think they had never realized that NOT having family dinner was an option.

Even when chaos ensues, I make an effort to juggle dinner hour because it's what I was used to growing up.

As life gets crazier, parents work long hours and kids have more activities, family dinner has become an outdated ritual in many homes. But new research shows letting it go is a BIG mistake.

Last night, ABC News featured a segment on the topic.  Here's the link. 

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 smoke pot. 
  • 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, who think it's "not cool" to eat dinner with their families. Seventeen-year-old Ben Smith had this comment on ABC.com: "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 dinner, but don't think it's doable. 

William Doherty, a professor of family social science at the University of Minnesota advises starting on a Sunday night. "One (night) is better than zero. It's quality, not quantity."

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 he advises: 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," Doherty advices. "Don't grill them about their grades."

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