Better behavior in adolescents whose families eat together

By Sheryl Kay • Published: June 12th, 2013
Category: Health in a Heartbeat

As today’s modern family gets pulled in more directions with both parents pursuing careers and children experiencing increased school demands and extracurricular activities, the notion of a regularly scheduled sit-down family dinner seems to be fading into history.

And for once, maybe old-fashioned really is better.

Such are the findings of a recent study appearing in the Journal of Adolescent Health. Analyzing data from more than 26,000 teens ages 11 to 15, researchers looked at the correlation between how often these adolescents had family dinners in their homes and their psychosocial behavior patterns.

During the yearlong study, the children were asked to record data on the frequency of family dinners, a self-evaluation on the ease of communicating with their parents, and a short inventory on five mental health assessments. Researchers were careful to take outside factors into account, including gender and age, but the findings were consistent. Not only did a specific family dinner time correlate to better social behaviors, but for each additional scheduled family dinner, behavior patterns improved and the children showed greater emotional well-being, more trusting and supportive behaviors toward others, and a higher degree of fulfillment and contentment in their lives.

While the study did not reveal exactly how mealtimes influence a child’s behavior, the investigators noted that family mealtimes often present the perfect setting for enhanced communication between parents and children. Adults become teachers, role models and sounding boards, while the children have a forum with which to express their concerns, their hopes, and their ideas, all of which leads to better mental health in teens.