Q [Tweens and Teens]: It is such a treat to have the whole family around the table for the holidays, I wish it could be this way all year. Is it worth the battle to force the issue when my teen is so busy?
A: While the holidays find many families gathering around the table together, the rest of the year doesn’t always look that way. But it is a routine that American families would do well to return to. When we fail to prioritize family meals, we deprive teens of numerous physical, emotional and mental benefits.
Food that boosts mood: The fact that family dinners provide a healthier diet for teens is important not only for physical wellness, but also for mental health. Research is increasingly revealing the impact of specific nutrients on the brain chemicals that regulate mood—and this is particularly true for teens, whose brains are still developing.
Better family relationships: Even if dinner is takeout pizza, there are still enormous benefits for teens in the open communication that results when a family sits together around the table. In a survey of a thousand teens ages 12 to 17, those who ate dinner with their family five to seven times a week were 1.5 times more likely to report having high-quality relationships with their parents, as opposed to teens who had family dinners two times or fewer per week.
Decreased risk of substance abuse and other risky behavior: A survey of teens showed that those who had infrequent family dinners were twice as likely to have used tobacco, almost twice as likely to have used alcohol, and 1.5 times likelier to have used marijuana, as compared to those who did eat with family regularly. Teens enjoying this special family time were also found to skip less classes or days of school.
Lower rates of depression and suicide: Eating together is associated with lower rates of depression, fewer suicide attempts, and a more positive outlook overall. In a study of five thousand teens, girls who ate seven or more family meals weekly were almost half as likely to report a suicide attempt, compared with girls eating no family meals.
The research supports what we know intuitively: Sustenance teens receive when families gather around the table goes far beyond what’s on their plates; helping to nourish mind, body, and soul.
Kristin Wilson, MA, LPC, Newport Academy’s Director of Clinical Outreach, has been working in the treatment field since 1997, in inpatient, residential, and outpatient levels of care. She is passionate about the integration of holistic care and is a licensed clinician. www.newportacademy.com