It may be that the best thing you can do for your kids is to sit the whole family down and have dinner together.
Research is showing that there is a significant number of kids who never actually sit down with their family to enjoy a meal together, and it may be that parents are the ones who are contributing to a society that is more overweight, more anxious and more depressed.
Sure, if Johnny doesn’t make it to football practice, he may not perform as well on the field. If Suzy doesn’t make it to ballet practice, she may not dance like she should. While those realities may be true, we need to realize that Johnny will probably never be a professional athlete, and Suzy probably is not going to dance on Broadway.
As much as we might want our kids to excel in sports, music and other extra-curricular activities, we need to remember that if our kids don’t ever eat with their families, they may not do well on life’s stage.
Finding time, conflicting schedules
Julie Jargon and Andrea Peterson have written an article in The Wall Street Journal entitled, “Family Dinners Are Key to Children’s Health. So Why Don’t We Eat Together More?” In it, they say that families gathering for dinner can feel like an impossibility.
Written not by pastors or psychologists but by journalists, these authors quote the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention which says that “A youth mental health crisis that was building for a decade before the pandemic has worsened over the past two years. In 2021, 44 percent of high school students said they felt persistently sad or hopeless in the past year. Mounting scientific research shows that gathering for regular meals and conversation might be a way to build children’s emotional resilience.”
These authors are showing that there are connections between things like increasing rates of depression in adolescents and a lack of families eating meals. The No. 1 reason for all this? Parents’ and kids’ conflicting schedules.
Jessica Berge, a professor in the department of family medicine and community health at the University of Minnesota, has followed the University’s Project EAT (Eating and Activity in Teens) Research and she finds that those who had eaten two to three family meals a week as teens had lower rates of obesity and eating disorders and better mental health outcomes than those who had eaten fewer family meals together.
Screens don’t help.
When a screen is present at a meal, benefits of eating together decrease. There is less conversation. Less eye contact. Whatever is on that screen is not as important as those kids around your table. Even having the TV on in the background has been found to reduce the quality of the experience.
We want our kids to go to the best schools and have the best teachers and make the best grades. We want them to play on the best sports teams. We want them to have the best friends and participate in the best activities. Parents need to remember that the best things are not out there. Rather, they are in our own homes around our own tables.
Worth the effort
In the end, your children will not remember where you took them. They will remember when you sat down with them.
Social scientists and politicians often focus on complex, big-picture solutions that have many moving parts. The most helpful and long-term thing that you might do for your kids is to go home tonight, put everyone’s phone in a drawer, turn off the television, gather the family around a table, sit down and have a meal together.
At first your kids may roll their eyes and think that there are cooler things to do. Keep doing it, and over time it will be one of their favorite times of the day.