During this year of social isolation, parents and teens are spending more time than usual in each other’s company. Sometimes this can be challenging! But it also gives families the chance to enjoy being together and get to know each other better. One place where this can happen is around the dinner table.
Studies have found that eating together as a family has great benefits for children’s health and wellbeing. For many families, a shared meal is the simplest and most regular way to enjoy being together, share news and interests, and solve problems. Children who share frequent meals with their loved ones in a warm, respectful environment tend to have better school results, better health, and fewer problem behaviours.
Family meals can even help teens who’ve experienced cyber bullying. Studies of more than 18,000 teens in North America and more than 5,000 teens in Scotland found that teens who had been cyber bullied were less likely to suffer serious harm to their wellbeing if they ate dinner with their families several times a week. Family meals are not a magical solution; even teens with strong family support can still suffer terrible harm from bullying. But for many families, regular meals seem to provide one more layer of protection.
Eating together regularly can also help teens stay healthy during tough times. For example, a study of more than 500 teens in Spain found that those who’d been bullied were less likely to develop depression if they managed to keep up healthy eating habits, such as regular meals and plenty of fruit and vegetables. And a study of more than 13,000 teens in the US found that those who ate breakfast every day were less likely to be bullied than those who did not.
These issues are complex, and there’s no simple ‘cause and effect’. And parents may find many different ways to nurture their teens, supervise them, and care for them. But for parents who are looking for a way to deepen their connection with their teens, regular meals can be one good place to start.
The dinner table can also be one place to start those tricky conversations about topics like bullying, cyber safety and porn. Dolly’s Dream Parent Hub provides tips for parents on how to have the ‘awkward conversations’, including:
Some families hate devices at the dinner table, some love them, and others feel conflicted. During to COVID-19 isolation, many families have used videoconferencing to enjoy ‘virtual dinners’ with loved ones they can’t see in person. It helps to: