If you’re not managing to sit down to a family dinner five nights a week, perhaps you don’t need to feel too guilty.
Eating dinner as a family has been said to head off problems such as eating disorders, obesity, and inadequate nutrition in the teenage years.
But a new study shows those benefits may owe more to the type of family that frequently sits down to dinner.
Researchers have recently found that the families that eat together more frequently share some common qualities statistically:
- both biological parents present
- stay at home mother
- higher income
- better family relationships.
It is these qualities that researchers believe have greater impact than the family dinner over levels of teen depressive symptoms, substance use, and delinquency – three factors typically examined in family meal studies.
“We find that most of the association between family meals and teen wellbeing is due to other aspects of the family environment. Analyses that follow children over time lend even weaker evidence for causal effects of family meals on adolescent and young adult well-being,” said Kelly Musick, associate professor of policy analysis and management at Cornell and lead author of the study to be published in the June edition of the Journal of Marriage and Family.
“Family dinners appear to be part and parcel of a broader package of practices, routines, and rituals that reflect parenting beliefs and priorities”
The study indicates that families who don’t manage to have regular family meals can obtain the same benefits if they have a family environment that includes time together, closeness, and good communication.
“Meals may afford a regular and positive context for parents to connect with children emotionally, to monitor their social and academic activities, and to convey values and expectations. This is what we suspect is driving any causal relationship between family dinners and child well being. But, family dinners also appear to be part and parcel of a broader package of practices, routines, and rituals that reflect parenting beliefs and priorities, and it’s unclear how well family dinners would work unbundled from the rest of that package,” said Musick.
How often do you sit down to eat as a family? Add your comments below.
NOTE: Some of these comments first appeared in The Kids Are All Right Forum.