Most parents today have heard that taking the time to sit down to a family dinner can help children improve their performance in school, but many parents may not understand exactly how important it is. Studies have shown that creating a safe space, such as the dinner table, to involve children and make them feel like they are being heard about all types of topics can help prevent drug use and addiction, as well as help parents recognize when their children are being bullied at school.
Yet, creating this safe space isn’t always as easy as it sounds. There are several obstacles to overcome for 21st century families. Many homes today are made up of single parents with only one income. They don’t always have the time or luxury of coming home after a long work day and creating a healthy meal. Other homes may find sitting down at the dinner table a battle because of constant after-school activities. Finally, some homes must push through the noise of video games, TV, and even dealing with a secretive and moody teenager. All of these factors can make communication a challenge.
Despite these everyday obstacles, the important thing to consider and understand is that the dinner table creates a specific environment that nourishes communication, individual attention and familial bonding. Therefore, it doesn’t always have to occur at dinnertime. This type of environment can be found anywhere, as long as the child or teenager feels safe about opening up to you, has your undivided attention, and is provided a judgment-free space. That may mean taking them to a park, an ice cream shop, shopping mall, etc. – whatever works best for your family to go about creating that important space for communication.
The Science behind a Quality Family Dinner
A recent article published by JAMA Pediatrics showed that 1 in 5 adolescents experienced bullying within the last year, most often through anonymous Internet attacks or cyber-bullying. When bullying happens during a time of self-exploration and self-identification, severe judgment or isolation from peers often causes a negative impact on mental health. The results can include depression, self-harm, suicidal thoughts or attempts, and frequent substance abuse with alcohol, illegal drugs or prescription drugs. Yet, these effects can be prevented or diminished when adolescents are exposed to a routine and consistent emotional support base, which, unsurprisingly, often appears during a family dinner.
When families were able to create a safe environment that cultivated understanding and support, bullied adolescents felt “about a 4-fold difference in the rates of total problems between no cyber-bullying victimization and frequent victimization.” In opposition, adolescents who were unable to receive the emotional support necessary felt a 7-fold difference in the negative emotions and reckless behavior.
In a related study on the impacts of family support system buffering the effects of cyber-bullying, Catherine P. Bradshaw, Ph.D., M.Ed., of the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, puts it best “… parents may play a greater role in preventing and helping to intervene in cyber-bullying situations than educators.” Bradshaw goes on to explain that this is because of their direct influence on their children’s lives through emotional support and some external factors such as access to computers, phones and tablets – the main mode of cyber-bullying.
If you’re having trouble communicating with your child or teenager, and are afraid he or she is getting cyber-bullied or may have a substance abuse problem, contact The Holiner Group today to schedule a consultation. We provide the best adolescent and child psychiatry available in Dallas and McKinney, Texas.