According to an article in The New York Times titled Is the Family Dinner Overrated? Gray Matter points out how many studies have suggested that children who participate in family dinners tend to be “healthier, happier, do better in school and [will] engage in fewer risky behaviors… ” (Matter). However, does having family dinners really help the overall development of the child? (Meier and Musick). In order to answer this, one would have to carefully examine the definition of what family dinners really mean. The definition of a family dinner has changed over time.
This is further explained by the “Montana Department of Public Health and Human Services” as they state that a common family dinner definition is “when you and your family sit down together, facing one another, and share time and attention as well as food. ” This definition may not apply to all families. With that being said the common interpretation of what a family dinner should look like may not always be true for other families. In fact, some families will eat dinner together, but will not talk whereas other families will share conversations with one another.
Family dinners may not always be sitting at a kitchen table. Some families might enjoy sitting on the couch eating together while watching television. Therefore, family dinners may or may not affect a child’s academic progress, behavior, and health. The history of family mealtimes has changed from how it was in the eighteenth century. In this era, industrialization changed the way daily routines were regulated. Since women started working more frequently, less time was being spent at home. Since gender roles were still a big part in this epoch, women would have been the ones preparing the meals.
Now because women would be working–saying they worked a full time job, they would not be home as much as they would if they did not work. But because they did work, there was less family dinner time. This called for the creation of weekend traditional family meals according to “Everyone would be around the table” by Cinotto S. During the same era, African-Americans’ formal family mealtimes were only performed during holidays. This was only because they would eat their food in the fields so they did not consider it to be formal family dinners.
However, African Americans who lived in the north practiced formal family dinners in a different way. To them, family meals were done when most of the family members were home. In addition, because many of the minority groups wanted to become more Americanized, they accepted to follow the American family meal tradition on the weekends when more time was allowed to be with their families due to working conflicts. Family mealtimes were also used as propaganda during the wars. Back then, family mealtimes were an indication of social stability and strength (Cinotto). Family dinners have changed a lot since the eighteenth century.
As technology keeps advancing, regular family mealtimes are becoming a thing of the past –although not completely. This is because back then, family mealtimes were done without the use of technology whereas today, it is likely to see a family dinner without any social interaction– the only interaction being with their phones. In fact, according to an article titled “Do you let your kids have technology at the table? I do. ” by Jo Abi states that every parent’s dream is to have their children well behaved and ready to eat their healthy food however, that is not the case.
Dinner time, in reality, is a chaotic time during which parents try to settle their kids down while also trying to get the kids to eat the meal that was prepared for them. All the stress accumulating makes parents want to give in and give the children the one thing that settles them down–technology (Abi). Another case in which technology has changed the way family dinners are structured is by the way everyone takes their food into their rooms or in front of a television to eat in an isolated area while everyone is using some form of technology. This is also done during family mealtime gatherings.
One study, conducted by the Kaiser Family Foundation, found that children from eight to eighteen years old spent a lot more time on their phones–mainly media–than any other daily activities. This is about an average of 7. 5 hours a day (Rideout, Foehr, & Roberts, 2010). Everyone seems to be on their phones instead of having conversations with everyone. Family dinners were done with a purpose to catch up and to communicate with one another. With technology taking over most of our lives, less family time is desired because one can update technology in a matter of seconds and everyone will be able to stay connected in that way.
In fact, technology “has increasingly taken the place of faceto-face communication” (Turkle 2012). Research has found that children who participate in family dinners tend to engage in fewer risky behaviors. This is because family dinners increase a child’s communication and monitoring (Sen, 2010). For example, one study examined that students in 6th- to 12th grade who ate as a family around five to seven times a week crucially showed lower odds of captivating in high risk behaviors like: alcohol, drug, and tobacco consumption (Fulkerson, Story, Mellin, Leffert, Neumark-Sztainer, & French, 2006).
Most unpleasant behaviors occur because there really is not any type of monitoring so kids tend to think they can keep getting away with their bad behavior. When parents monitor their children when having family dinners, most parents will know if something does not seem right, therefore put a stop to any continuing behavior. As children age, family dinner time becomes less frequent. Meaning that the variation in meal frequencies may be more significant to younger children as opposed to older therefore, this explains behavior problems in ounger children (Hammons & Fiese, 2011).
Although family dinners have changed a lot, it is not necessarily beneficial to have family dinners, but instead to spend quality time with one another. This is further explained in the book The Secrets of Happy Families by Bruce Feiler. The author emphasizes a new approach to help the family dinner crisis. Feiler states that “It’s the bonding time, that 15 minutes of conversation, that’s what really matters. It’s not having that bonding at the dinner table[only]” (Feiler 253).
This means that the quick conversations during a family dinner will not have as much of a positive impact to the child as it would if there was actual quality time with insightful conversations. Insightful conversations lead to better communication skills which go hand in hand with better grades. In spite of the fact that many still believe that family dinners are effective, one can still have the same effect if they were to spend those 15 minutes eating and conversing compared to another time where those 15 minutes are dedicated to just talking.
Yet when it comes to nutrition, family dinner monitoring is the best way to care for the child’s health, since the parents know what is being added to the food and will restrict more bad foods so that the child can be healthy. Both researchers brought up communication as a fundamental point that needs to be used in order to enforce discipline– mainly focusing on nutrition, academic progress, and behavior. When technology has changed the way a family dinner might look like, family dinners are very crucial to have.
This is because children are communicating less with others–mainly their parents. When having family dinners, parents can ban technology for some time, so that they can communicate and have that interaction that is being lost. However, even though a lot of research agrees that family dinners can be effective, it is not necessarily the family dinner alone that makes a difference, it is the quality time spent with the family. Quality family time meaning the interaction with parents and children while having some form of verbal communication.
Family dinners do make a difference in a child’s nutrition and some behavior problems at a young age, but if parents do not have time to regularly enjoy family dinners daily, they can substitute that with another time where they can have a lot of family interaction–this then helps build a child’s development. For those parents who cannot ract with their family at other time and only during family mealtimes, then this time tends to be very effective. Overall, communication tends to be a skill that these children need in order to help contribute to their development in their academic progress, behavior and health.