Regular family dinners contribute positively to emotional well being, pro-social behavior and life satisfaction in adolescents, according to a Canadian study published in the Journal of Adolescent Health. The study also found that regular and frequent family dinners 'foster social exchanges that benefit all adolescents, regardless of whether or not they feel they can easily talk to their parents'.
Until recently, the age old custom of family dinners in India was the norm. It's only now that this tradition has changed mainly because of the modern lifestyle and technological advancements. Parents are busy with their long-working-hour jobs, and kids' schedule is jam packed with school, sports and extra curricular activities. And then there is of course the TV, social networking sites and other can't-do-without gadgets. No wonder, children these days may be 65 percent more likely to have eating disorder problems and 88 percent more likely to be overweight.
AdvertisementAccording to a study published in the journal Pediatrics, 'children and adolescents who share family meals 3 or more times per week are more likely to be in a normal weight range and have healthier dietary and eating patterns than those who share fewer than 3 family meals together'.
"More frequent family dinners related to fewer emotional and behavioral problems, greater emotional well-being, more trusting and helpful behaviors towards others and higher life satisfaction," says Frank Elgar at the Institute for Health and Social Policy and Douglas Mental Health University Institute, McGill University, Montreal.
Frank Elgar along with Wendy Craig and Stephen J. Trites, from Queen's University, Kingston, Ontario, examined the association between the frequency of family dinners and positive and negative dimensions of mental health in adolescents and investigated whether this association has anything to do with the quality of communication between parents and kids. They used the data from 2010 Canadian Health Behaviour of School-aged Children study (part of a World Health Organization collaboration of 43 countries) which included 26,069 adolescents, aged between 11 to 15 years.
"We were surprised to find such consistent effects on every outcome we studied," Elgar said. "From having no dinners together to eating together seven nights a week, each additional dinner related to significantly better mental health." And the outcomes were irrespective of gender, age or family affluence.
This research is not the first of its kind. Earlier studies too indicated family meals to be associated with improved outcomes for kids, such as, lower depressive symptoms, less likely to be overweight, eating more healthy foods, having less delinquency, greater academic achievement, improved psychological wellbeing, and positive family interactions.
Eliza Cook and Rachel Dunifon, both from the Cornell University College of Human Ecology, in their review study of family mealtime research, recommend following ways to improve family meal time:
• Set a goal to have regular family meals at least three times per week, if possible. If not, try to substitute family dinners with shared breakfasts, evening snacks or activities that gathers the family more regularly.
• Know that the routine of family meals can generate feelings of closeness and comfort and provide your child with stability.
• Turn off the TV and cell phones and ask your children about their day, school, friends, and such things. Connect and share important information with your children.
Having children help prepare food and set the table can also encourage communication during mealtime. Family dinners and mental health are partially attributable to the ease of communication between adolescents and parents. This is because family dinners can facilitate open communication by presenting opportunities for kids to discuss social and emotional issues and coping strategies, according to the researchers.
In view of the benefits of family dinners or breakfasts, let's revive this ritual and contribute to a healthy society.