Behavioural problems in kids appear much more prevalent today than 20 or 30 years ago.
Whether there is actually an increase in childhood pathology, or just a heightened sensitivity towards it, technology addiction, longer working hours, and busier lifestyles in general – disconnected parenting, for short – is not helping.
But this one simple change in daily routine can create more well-adjusted, well-mannered, happier children: sitting down for family dinners.
According to a comprehensive report released by the National Centre on Addiction and Substance Abuse at Columbia University, “Eating family dinners at least five times a week drastically lowers a teen’s chance of smoking, drinking, and using drugs. Teens who have fewer than three family dinners a week are 3.5 times more likely to have abused prescription drugs and to have used illegal drugs, 3 times more likely to have used marijuana, more than 2.5 times more likely to have smoked cigarettes, and 1.5 times more likely to have tried alcohol, and 20% more likely to get C’s or lower on their report cards.”
Aside from a decreased likelihood of substance abuse, children who ate meals with their families at least five times per week had a lower risk of developing obesity and other eating disorders, participating in criminal activities, having low self-esteem, performing poorly in school, becoming pregnant at a young age, and giving in to peer pressure.
It’s fairly obvious why sit-down family suppers are so effective in helping kids keep psychologically and physically healthy; children need stability and bonding time with their parents, and dinner time is usually the only opportunity between the morning alarm and lights out to connect with family members and share experiences and thoughts about the day. The table is thus also the primary place where proper social etiquette is learned – mindful eating, too, away from the TV, mobile phones, and other attention-sucking devices. And of course, proper family meals require wholesome food prep; a parental responsibility just as integral as socialisation.
PowerofPositivity.com has some helpful tips on how to turn family dinners into a lasting habit:
• Make meals simple.
You’re not in the running for MasterChef, so forget about following complicated recipes and sweating over the stove for hours. Stick to winning combos with just a few ingredients that the whole family can enjoy (and help out with). Making extra food so that you have leftovers for a few nights minimises effort, too.
• Don’t bring technology to the dinner table.
This should be a no-brainer. Checking emails and scrolling through social media newsfeeds interrupts the whole bonding experience. Make it a point to leave those distractions in another room and focus your attention on your children for the time being. Kids grow up quickly, and emails and Facebook will still be there when the meal is over.
• Get everyone to help out.
Delegate a few simple tasks to your kids so that you’re not left with all the preparing and cleaning up. This will teach them responsibility, plus, it will make everyone feel like part of a team, strengthening the familial bond.
• Let everyone join in the conversation.
Letting others have the floor and just listening, is important to your children’s development. Not only will they feel like valued, equal members of the family unit, but they will learn, through your example, how to engage with others, and not just voice opinions.
Life happens, and no family is perfect. Yet even if you can’t coordinate a come-together every night, having just three or four meals a week as a family will have incredible developmental and behavioural benefits for your children.