From Smart Kids with LD
May 6, 2013
As children get older and lives become more complicated, families often find it difficult to sit down en masse for dinner.
Yet, once again science reminds us that spending dinnertime together as a family is a worthwhile ritual, with particular benefits for children.
A new study published in the Journal of Adolescent Health found that the more a family eats together, the greater emotional well-being adolescents have. As noted in an article about the study in USA Today, “With each additional dinner, researchers found fewer emotional and behavioral problems, greater emotional well-being, more trusting and helpful behaviors toward others and higher life satisfaction, regardless of gender, age or family economics.”
The new findings are based on a correlation study that included more than 26,000 Canadian adolescents. Participants, ages 11 to 15, were asked how often they ate dinner with their family, and how well they communicate with their parents. They were then asked to evaluated their emotions, behaviors, and life satisfaction.
Study co-author Frank Elgar, an associate professor of psychiatry at McGill University, is quick clarify that these findings do not suggest a cause-effect relationship. “We don’t know if family dinners contribute to mental health, or if mental health and other behavioral problems cause some teenagers to avoid the family dinner.”
What we do know is that this research supports many—but not all—earlier studies that have found a similar correlation between children’s emotional well-being and spending family time together around the dinner table.
The USA Today article cites the work of James White, a British researcher whose studies found that “frequent family meals and a positive atmosphere at the dinners are associated with lower risks of smoking, binge drinking and drunkenness.”
Why this is the case is not known though some experts speculate the ritual itself might be important. Says Sharon Fruh, an associate professor of nursing and researcher in the field, “Rituals are very important to everyone—especially children. They provide security and structure and they give a sense of belonging.”
But, as Fruh notes, not all family dinner experiences are equal: “What researchers are encouraging is turn off all the electronics and not just the television. There have been quite a few studies that found the more distractions, the less beneficial the communication around the table.”