One way parents can keep up communication with there teenage children is to sit down together for dinner, finds a new study.
The results show that while parent-child communication generally declines as kids go through middle school, eating meals together can help protect against this conversation dip.
Kids who frequently ate dinner with their parents when they were in sixth grade saw less of a change in communication with their folks over three and a half years than kids who rarely or never ate dinner with their parents in sixth grade.
"Even if they're less likely to have meals with the family as they go into high school, if they're having them when they're younger, it's still a point of connection and it's a good thing and can have a lasting impact," Live Science quoted study researcher Jayne Fulkerson, a professor at the University of Minnesota School of Nursing, as saying.
The results are based on surveys of nearly 5,000 middle school students in Chicago public schools. Participants were surveyed at the beginning and end of sixth grade and again at the end of seventh and eighth grade.
Subjects were asked how frequently they ate dinner with their parents (never, hardly even, sometimes, a lot or all the time.). They were also asked how often their parents had a conversation with them that lasted more than 10 minutes, praised them when they did well, asked them where they were going and asked how they were doing in school.
The protective effect of family dinners held even after the researchers took into account other factors that could impact the results including race, ethnicity, gender, socio-economic status and who the child lived with.
Family meals are a good opportunity to stay connected with children, Fulkerson said. "You might have a better sense of what's going on in their lives and be able to understand what they're going though more," she said.
Fulkerson suggests avoiding topics that might be a point of conflict for parents and children, such as grades and homework.
The value of sharing meals
In a challenging world, family belonging provides a safe haven for parents and children alike. Family dinners not only satisfy our physical and emotional needs, but also offer a time and place to consciously teach our children the value of caring for others.
Sharing family dinners sets the stage for us to value our family relationships, rather than take them for granted. Consistently having dinner together as a family also keeps us in touch, allowing us to trouble-shoot problems in daily living, as well as keeping us abreast of our family members' activities and life experience. It is in the family group that we develop an ability to discuss, to express our opinions, to be ourselves and allow others to be themselves. We feel less alone in the world when we know there are people who love and care about us, no matter what we are going through.
The function of a family is to nurture the growth and development of each of its members. The overall "spirit" in a family is like the soil in a garden. Soil rich in needed elements supports growth, while earth anemic in necessary nutrients curtails blossom.
What is your family's spirit? Ask yourself these five questions:
- How important is it for all family members to share dinner together regularly? If it is important to you, why is this time valued?
- Does relating to other family members take priority over convenience?
- Will you and your partner wait, and make special arrangements, in order to eat with the other?
- Is it important to you to stay in touch with what other family members think and feel each day?
- Do work and activities outside the family take priority?
Much is learned through the process of committing to eat together. It's important to feel that there is some sacred time where we come first to other family members, above and beyond any other interest or activity. We must "pull together" to "be" together. This creates true family spirit!
Closing the Gap : A Strategy For Bringing Parents And Teens Together
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