Of any age group, teens may have the most to gain from eating dinner with their families. Numerous studies over the last 15 years reveal that dinners can protect teens from engaging in a host of risky behaviors: smoking, drinking, getting pregnant, developing an eating disorder, and using drugs. Teens who dine with their families also report experiencing less overall stress, feeling more known by their parents, and having better relationships with them. (CASA, 2012)
Why do family dinners offer such benefits? The simplest answer is that dinner is a reliable occasion for teens to feel connected to their parents. It is this connection that provides the real seat belt on the potholed road of adolescence.
Dinnertime also creates the opportunity for parents to check in and monitor their teens’ behavior without putting their kids on the hot seat. Instead, questions about their day are softened by answering while enjoying a delicious meal, and by hearing about everyone else’s funny tales of the day. The really good news is that when teenagers are asked to list the activities they most enjoy, family dinner is consistently ranked high on that list. That said, teens can be sulky, irritable, prickly and challenging, and may not make the easiest dinner companions. Not only that, but their schedules may seem too busy to fit in regular dinners, what with sports practices, afterschool jobs, hours of homework, and heavy social media upkeep.
So, how can parents make dinner compelling for adolescents, and enjoyable for everyone else in the family?