You get to a point in life where everyone’s schedules are so busy there’s hardly any time for the family to sit down as a whole for dinner. Between soccer practice, dance class, work and going to the gym, it’s difficult to plan a time that everyone is available for. Because of this, families are spending less time together as a whole, and it’s having an impact on the children.
According to studies, families who eat meals together help to reduce the chance of adolescents engaging in risky behaviors such as smoking, drinking, drugs and even sexual behaviors growing up. This is due to the conversation and cohesiveness that family meals help to instill in a child’s mind.
When families make it a point to sit down for dinner together five or more times a week, this time spent together can serve as an open floor for ongoing conversation and communication, allowing each family member to share about their days and what’s happening in their lives.
Dinner time also provides an opportunity for parents to learn and recognize everyday aspects of their children’s lives. Whether the news is important or nothing out of the ordinary, this type of environment can allow for the development of three important features in a parent/child relationship:
1. Creating a very basic level of comfort that enhances and eases the process of communicating in general. This allows for a natural structure for discussing things that are perhaps more sensitive and difficult for kids and parents to talk about, such as substance use and sexual health.
2. Showing that you’re interested in learning about your children’s day shows that parent’s are making an effort to make their kids a priority, which resonates with children. This creates a sense of trust, which is crucial in any relationship, especially between parents and children. A sense of trust will allow for more initiating and engaging in potentially difficult conversations down the road.
3. Spending quality time with children at dinner is also providing parents with the opportunity to identify any changes in patterns. This includes clothing, friends and grades. These changes are indicators of problems that could result in anything from substance use to other risky behaviors.
A great idea is to set some dinner time rules where everyone needs to leave their technological devices in the other room. This includes distractions such as cell phones, TV, computers, music or even reading books. If you or your children are using these items at the dinner table, you will not find the same type of results as you would without any of these distractions.
In the end, evidence shows that children who eat regular meals with their families are less apt to turn to substance use and place themselves at sexual risk, and have a smaller chance of developing mental health problems, violence, aggression and difficulties in schools.
It’s common for schedules to get busy and interfere with family dinners sometimes, but that doesn’t mean the conversation needs to stop. Family meals ultimately offer the type of environment that creates the easiest line of communication between parents and children, but don’t let that keep you from talking to your kids at other opportune times. Take advantage of the moments you have with your children to talk, even if it’s in the car on the way to soccer practice and dance rehearsal. If you interact with your children and show interest in what’s happening in their lives, it will make a lasting impact with the way they develop into adults.
Alaina Mason is a freelance writer and health advocate. As a social worker, she studies how different home environments impact the children she works with. She has done a great deal of research on how getting a social work degree online can make her a better social worker and provide her patients with better care.