We have had enough loss in the past few months during this pandemic haven't we? It's nice to know that COVID 19 has given us back time together as a family. Even though school has once again started for many and sports are once again creeping into the evening hours, most families still find themselves with more time than ever. All over a nation, due to shutdowns, eating out was no longer an option and parents were struggling to remember favorite recipes once abandoned because they realized that "family time" was back, if not for only a moment. Now, 9 months later, many families are still holding on to the remnants of a time when leaving the house was discouraged, and now that time around the table has made its comeback, we realize we may be on to something.
Some Surprising Trends Have Emerged
60 years ago, the average dinner time was 90 minutes. As of March 2019, it was less than 12 minutes. Even though trends are now averaging longer than they were a year ago we may once again be in danger of forgetting another lesson this pandemic can teach us.
Family dinner not only holds value as time well spent connecting, but many teens are, in fact: "Roughly six in 10 (62%) parents with children under 18 say they would like to have family dinners “much more often” or “somewhat more often.” Just under half (46%) of Americans living in a household with at least one other person say the same." 1
"We're gathering for the purpose of sustenance, for the purpose of an almost literal communion," he says. "If you do that regularly enough, you'll see a change in your relationship to both the cooking and the people — and perhaps see a change in yourself and how you regard the world." #SamSifton
"Why" It Matters That You're Teen Wants
to Share A Family Meal
One of the things that we have enjoyed in the Elliott home for many years, since our kids were very young, old enough to sit in a chair rather than a high seat, is the family dinner. Even with our busy lifestyle and ministry invading several evenings a week we have always tried to keep this value a priority. Early one in ministry we discovered that families we knew who shared the table for at least 3 or 4 meals per week seemed to be healthier and happier mentally.
Were you aware that teenagers who regularly eat dinner with their families are much less likely to engage in illegal drug and alcohol abuse and are far more likely to get better grades.
New research published in the Journal of Adolescent Health, shows that the more frequent these dinners, the better the adolescents fare emotionally. "The effect doesn't plateau after three or four dinners a week," says co-author Frank Elgar, an associate professor of psychiatry at McGill University in Montréal. "The more dinners a week the better."
Many teens today are nostalgic enough with the desire of record players, 80's fashion trends, and culture that you can make family dinner something that is fun and memorable. Many kids who are nostalgic have a longing for simpler times of when they were a kid and times were much easier and responsibility was much lighter.
Though teens may not be articulate enough to sense these changes, the family dinner can be representative of these much simpler times and even open the door to deeper connections.
"Rituals are very important to everyone — especially children, they help provide security and structure and they give a sense of belonging." says Sharon Fruh, an associate professor of nursing at the University of South Alabama in Mobile, who co-authored a 2011 study about family dinner research in The Journal for Nurse Practitioners.
"What researchers are encouraging is turn off all the electronics and not just the television," she says. "There have been quite a few studies that (found) the more distractions, the less beneficial the communication around the table."
We will talk later about how to make the dinner table a place of peace in which your teens will begin to long for, but for now, understand that even the predictable nature of a planned family meal is part of the allure in a world in which so much is changing and shifting. We can make the family meal a place in which our kids know they can depend.
So Now What?
Open up the conversation to your teens. Ask them what they think and don't be afraid to talk them through the changes either. They may give some pushback because they may fear a loss of their own freedoms but you can reassure them that you want to make this an amicable time and practice. Change is hard for ANY kid, but if anyone of your kids is on the spectrum or just very busy, changes to their may be a difficult or present barriers that they may not perceive can be overcome, that is where discussing it in advance can potentially alleviate some of that.