You’ve heard about studies showing the impact of consistent family meals on teen behavior: the more often they eat dinner with their families, the less likely teens are to use drugs, alcohol or engage in other risky behavior. Family dinners at least five times per week are also tied to higher grades, self-esteem and resilience in youth. Why? Is it the homemade pasta? The garden fresh tomatoes? Nope. It’s YOU.
More specifically, it’s your interest, your attention, your willingness to listen as well as share experiences and expectations. David Watkins, Prevention Coordinator for the Bear River Health Department, explains:
“The research on that shows that as families sit down around a table, they’re just able to connect and bond together. It really doesn’t matter how good the food is, it’s really just the conversation and interaction that’s going on with them that is creating a bond not only to their siblings but to their parents and the ideals their parents have.”
Person-to-person connection is important and comes naturally as we align schedules and sit eye-to-eye around a table. But, it isn’t just bonding that shows up in the research. In fact, bonding is more of a gateway. It’s also the communication of boundaries that carry protective power. Watkins sees this in his preventative efforts with Parents Empowered, a media and education campaign funded by the Utah Legislature designed to prevent and reduce underage drinking in the state.
“Parents Empowered in Utah shows that its kind of that expectation, the rules and boundaries the parents are setting and that might be conveyed during a family dinner ... I’m bonding with my kids and my kids are bonding with me. But then it’s that rule and that expectation for no underage drinking is what’s keeping kids from drinking.”
For calendars riddled with soccer games and band concerts, food has the power to pull us in, where conversation can flow. The discussion could shift from the day’s happenings to favorite vacations or current events.
Within the exchange, listening to each other increases our understanding and sharing our observations establish a frame of reference for values. Within this framework, Parents Empowered would also encourage us to set clear rules and consequences for underage drinking and follow-up often. Family dinner is just one of many opportunities for daily positive interactions that build resilience--but, it’s the most delicious.
So, what’s for dinner tonight? How about some bonding and boundaries.
This is Jenn Ashton for Bread and Butter.