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Family Dinners Can Help Parents and Youth

Family Dinners Multiple studies done in the United States and Canada have found that family dinners are positively related to emotional well-being, pro-social behavior, and life satisfaction (Fulkerson & Story, 2006; Fulkerson, Pasch, Stigler, 2010). Furthermore, it has been found that the more family dinners youth report having each week, the less likely they are to have depressive symptoms, suicidal thoughts, and anxiety. Youth were also less likely to engage in physical violence, property destruction, and stealing (Fulkerson & Story, 2006). When research accounted for gender, age, and level of family affluence, there was minimal to no difference; family dinners still had the same healthy, positive effects.

Why are family dinners so important? Eating together promotes family connectedness and communication. This is assuming that when you sit down for dinner there is more talking and less yelling. Eating together establishes regular social contact between parents and youth. It also presents opportunities for youth to discuss challenges so that parents can have the chance to help with coping strategies (Eisenberg, Neumark-Sztainer, Fulkerson, & Story, 2008).

Here are some suggestions for families that encourage communication during mealtime (no conversation flashcards necessary).

  • Silence mobile devices and put them away during dinner time.
  • Turn off the television. It is very difficult to talk about the day or listen to someone else if your favorite show is on.
  • Have each person talk about their day, even you. Modeling and reciprocating openness is key.
  • Involve youth in food and table preparation. (In our busy, modern lives, parents do not always time or energy to cook. So, you can modify this suggestion by having youth accompany you as you pick up dinner. If you spend time in the car or on the bus talking as you go to pick up food, it counts.)

This research does not suggest that eating dinner with your family will prevent your child from experiencing bullying. It is just a simple and specific strategy that can be used to encourage communication between parents and youth.


Eisenberg, M.E., Neumark-Sztainer, D., Fulkerson, J.A., Story, M. (2008). Family meals and substance use: Is there a long-term protective association? Adolescent Health, 43, 151-156.

Eisenberg, M.E., Olson, R.E., Neumark-Sztainer, D.,et al. (2004). Correlations between family meals and psychosocial well-being among adolescents among adolescents. Arch Pediatric Adolescent Medicine, 158, 792-796.

Fiese, B.H. and Schwartz, M. (2008). Reclaiming the family table: Mealtimes and child health and wellbeing. Social Policy Report, 12, 1-19.

Elgar, F.J., Craig, W., Trites, S.J. (2012). Family Dinners, communication, and mental health in Canadian adolescents. Journal of Adolescent Health, (in press).