Twenty years of research in North America, Europe and Australia, observes Fishel, support the practice of family mealtime. “It turns out that sitting down for a nightly meal is great for the brain, the body and the spirit.”
I am a staunch advocate of family mealtime. The dinner table nurtured trust between my parents, grandparents, and me. My mother and grandmother fed my body, but it was their invitation to engage in discussions about life that stimulated my mind and nourished my soul.
“Dinnertime conversation,” writes Fishel, “boosts vocabulary even more than being read aloud to.” There is also, Fishel notes, “a consistent association between family dinner frequency and teen academic performance.” Older children reap “intellectual benefits from family dinners . . . regular mealtime is an even more powerful predictor of high achievement scores than time spent in school, doing homework, playing sports or doing art.”
The family table, notes Fishel, tends to provide healthier food, but also a healthier atmosphere. However, she cautions, “all bets are off if the TV is on during dinner.”
Regular family dinners are linked, Fishel says, “with lowering a host of high risk teenage behaviors parents fear: smoking, binge drinking, marijuana use, violence, school problems, eating disorders and sexual activity.” A study of more than 5,000 Minnesota teens concluded that “regular family dinners were associated with lower rates of depression and suicidal thoughts.”
There is more. Fishel has reason to believe that kids who have been “victims of cyberbullying” bounce back more readily if they have the benefit of family meals. I have no doubt that being in communication with my mom and dad at our family’s dinner table helped steer me away from some high-risk teen behavior.
A New Zealand study, writes Fishel, reveals that “a higher frequency of family meals was strongly associated with positive moods in adolescents.” Evidence also indicates “that teens who dine regularly with their families also have a more positive view of the future, compared to their peers who don’t eat with parents.”
Children don’t grow up working beside their parents today. They don’t farm, construct a house, bake, or quilt together. So, as Fishel observes, the family dinner table remains the most reliable way for parents and children to connect.
“Kids who eat dinner with their parents,” says Fishel, “experience less stress and have a better relationship with them. This daily mealtime connection is like a seat belt for traveling the potholed road of childhood and adolescence and all its possible risky behaviors.”
Just gathering at a common dinner table isn’t enough. It’s what happens at that table. Silence between parents or using the time to scold children won’t, as Fishel notes, “confer positive benefits. Sharing a roast chicken won’t magically transform parent-child relationships.”
My own experience at the dinner table with my parents helped me learn when to speak and when to listen. I was encouraged to ask questions, share ideas, and practice kindness. This nourishing of body, mind, and soul was an experience I wanted to repeat with my children and grandchildren. What a privilege to hear what children are thinking, learn what is going on in their life, engage them in dialogue, mentor, and encourage.
It is small moments like these, concludes Fishel, that “can gain momentum to create stronger connections away from the table.”
Quotes from Anne Fishel are excerpted from her article
“Science says: eat with your kids” – Mercatornet.com 1-14-15
Anne Fishel is the author of Home For Dinner and
Associate Clinical Professor of Psychology, Harvard Medical School
(photo image: Pinterest.com)