For many, a sit-down dinner with everyone in the family is increasingly rare, with often clashing schedules of after-school activities, business obligations and social events.
But family dinners do more than just bring parents and kids up to date; a new study suggests the fellowship inherent in such gatherings contributes to good mental health in adolescents.
Frank Elgar, Ph.D., a professor at McGill University in Montreal, Canada, discovered family meal times are a measurable signature of social exchanges in the home that benefit adolescents’ well-being – regardless of whether or not they feel they can easily talk to their parents.
“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,” said Elgar, whose research centers on social inequalities in health and family influences on child mental health.
In the study, researchers examined the relation between frequency of family dinners and positive and negative aspects of mental health.
Investigators used a national sample of 26,069 adolescents aged 11 to 15 years who participated in the 2010 Canadian Health Behavior in School-Aged Children study.
The researchers found the same positive effects of family meal time on the mental health of the young subjects, regardless of gender, age or family affluence.
“We were surprised to find such consistent effects on every outcome we studied,” said Elgar. “From having no dinners together to eating together seven nights a week, each additional dinner related to significantly better mental health.”
During the study, the adolescents submitted data on the weekly frequency of family dinners, ease of parent-adolescent communication and five dimensions of mental health, including internalizing and externalizing problems, emotional well-being, more helpful behaviors and life satisfaction.
Study authors believe their research shows that family mealtimes are opportunities for open family interactions.
The shared family time presents teaching opportunities for the parents — a time in which parents can model and educate on a variety of life skills such as coping and resiliency as well as positive health behaviors and nutritional choices.
The time together allows adolescents to express concerns and feel valued, all elements that are conducive to good mental health in adolescents.
Source: McGill University