Do you still have family meals? Or maybe I should ask, did you ever have family dinners? I seem to ask this question quite frequently during check-ups and I am finding that more and more teenagers answer no to that question. That worries me.
Family meals, or in this case I am really talking about dinner, has been and remains such an important part of the day for teens. As busy as families are, the ritual of gathering together for an evening meal has actually become even more important.
So many teenagers are up early these days and heading to school even before the sun is up, and therefore family breakfasts don't seem to be as feasible for many. But every family needs to make the time to eat together at some point during the day, and dinner may be the best time.
There have been numerous studies to show that adolescents who routinely eat meals with their families actually perform better in school, are less likely to use drugs or consume alcohol and are also less obese. That's a lot of positive effects for just having dinners together.
But, when I bring up the subject of family meals, many parents as well as their adolescent children tell me that they are just too busy to eat together! How can that be? Everyone has to eat, and whether dinner is a four-course meal or just a quick meal brought in from the local take out, having everyone gather around the table is important.
The family dinner table is the place to discuss the workday, school day, and anything else that a teenager might want to talk about. Whether the topic of the night is sports, politics, school projects, the next school dance, or the latest teen angst, it really doesn't matter. Dinner is the time to just talk.
And even if everyone at the table is not always talking, they are listening. I know it may be hard to believe it, but even the uncommunicative teen gets a lot out of just being at the table. Surprisingly, the quiet teen may begin to engage when given the opportunity to be with the family.
So, you do not have to commit to 7 nights a week, but maybe start off with 2-3 family dinner nights a week, make a schedule and see how it goes. You may be surprised at how much everyone gets out of a family meal. I also am willing to bet that everyone eats a bit healthier as well when you sit down for a meal rather than eating on the go.
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