“Forks on the left!” my mom would often say to me as we set the table for Thanksgiving dinner.
It turns out that meals together do more for children than simply educate them on place setting etiquette.
The National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse at Columbia University has studied the importance of eating together as a family. The Center has found that teens who had frequent family dinners (five to seven per week) were more likely to report having high-quality relationships with their parents.
Compared to teens who had infrequent family dinners (two or fewer per week), teens who had frequent family dinners were almost 1.5 times likelier to have said they had an excellent relationship with their mother and 1.5 times likelier to have said they had an excellent relationship with their father.
The report also found that compared to teens who said they had an excellent relationship with their fathers, teens that had a less than very good relationship with their father were:
• Almost four times likelier to have used marijuana
• Twice as likely to have used alcohol
• 2.5 times as likely to have used tobacco
And compared to teens who said they had an excellent relationship with their mothers, teens that had a less than very good relationship with their mother were:
• Almost three times likelier to have used marijuana
• 2.5 times as likely to have used alcohol
• 2.5 times likelier to have used tobacco
Family dinners were strongly linked to teen substance use prevention.
Family dinners certainly aren’t the magic bullet; but, health and wellness experts agree that eating together as a family will help both physical and mental wellbeing. If you are already doing family dinners, please don’t stop. If you aren’t, please try them out — even if it’s just once a week and the food is takeout. Shut off the TVs and the devices, and get everyone to the table!
Family dinners give you a chance to check in and have a conversation. Family dinners are a practical, tangible way to send a clear message that you care about what is going on with your family and that you all are important to one another.
There are many things you, as a family, can gain from having dinner together, but three very important benefits are:
• Learning the skill of conversation
• Gaining developmental communication
• Receiving nutritional benefits
In this Thanksgiving season, have your family together to give thought to all the special people in your life — family, friends, coworkers, fellow members of organizations and individuals who make your daily life easier/better/safer, including those serving in the military, law enforcement, and medical fields. Have those who are comfortable sharing give one reason why they’re grateful.
Consider all the first-world luxuries you take for granted, including clean water to drink and bathe in, safe food to eat, a home, heat in colder weather and air conditioning in warmer weather, etc. Pause periodically to appreciate your job — the money it provides you to live and the challenges it gives you to expand your mind and views.
Admire nature and your privilege to live in this world. Take time to take in sunrises, sunsets, gentle rains, blowing winds, stately trees and changing seasons.
As a new Thanksgiving tradition, consider serving recipes from your ancestry. Think about including a “secret” family dish passed down through the generations.
Then, keep the dinner dialogue going with conversation rolls. Use rolls of refrigerator biscuits or crescents, or your own homemade rolls. Write or type conversation questions on strips of white paper. Butter the paper strips and stuff them in the dough. Bake according to the package or recipe directions. At mealtime, let members know about the papers and questions. Explain that when they take rolls, they must share the questions and their answers with everyone else. Here are a few question ideas:
• If you had $100 to give to anyone, whom would you give it to and why?
• What is your biggest wish?
• What would you like to be thankful for next year at this time?
• What is something non-material that you would like to get/give this holiday season?
• What is the best thing that has happened to you this year?
The important thing is to grow together as a family through communication!
Hugh Gray is the executive director at Westview Behavioral Health Services and can be reached at 803-276-5690.