Family dinner is an ordeal for many teens. Enduring endless parental questioning, and prodding, they’d much rather be in their rooms doing something interesting. But the event may really be good for them.
In fact, family dinner may be one of the things that separates happy families from unhappy ones, according to researchers at McGill University.
They looked at how often families had dinner together and then asked 26,069 kids ages 11 through 15 about how easy or difficult it was to talk to their parents about "things that bother them." Frequency of family dinners correlated strongly with "emotional well-being, prosocial behavior, and life satisfaction" across one- and two-parent families, irrespective of family income and the children’s age or gender.
Associate professor Frank Elgar says families don’t have to "look like a Norman Rockwell painting" to communicate effectively. The important thing is not the food or the setting, but putting aside some time and space.
I suspect that it isn’t meals per se that relate to mental health, but the time and quality of family communication. We looked at family dinners because they are easy to measure.
The lesson, I think, is that protecting a time of the day to check in, feel listened to, share concerns relates to better mental health and well-being.
The more difficult question maybe is getting teens to agree what’s good for them.