You have probably heard all the studies — family dinners are a great way to bond with your kids and provide many benefits that will help them in their childhood, teen years, and into adulthood. While you might not want to push your kids to participate in those family meals, the benefits can outweigh your hesitation. Some surprising up-sides of pushing these important meals follow.

Findings on the Importance of Family Dinners

Several agencies — Columbia University, Barilla food products and Emory University — conducted studies on family dinners. Benefits include emotional, mental and physical tangibles that help children and teens, including:

  • Improved self-esteem
  • A reduced risk of substance abuse
  • A decrease in suicidal thoughts and overall depression
  • A reduced rate of obesity
  • An improved vocabulary for young children
  • Improved academic performance in both young children and teens, increasing the likelihood of grades above 90 percent
  • A better sense of coping and resilience
  • A drop in teen pregnancy
  • Less chance of developing anorexia, bulimia and other eating disorders
  • Increased likelihood of a healthier diet that includes fruits, veggies and less processed food and
  • Enhanced emotional connections.

Furthermore, regular family meals decreased other risky teen behaviors, including sexual activity, problems at school, violence and smoking. Another study indicated that family dinners even helped children cope with cyberbullying.

Warning about Electronics

However, leaving the television on during dinner decreased many of these benefits and actually increased the risk of obesity in children as young as 8 to 10 years old. These studies held true in America, Portugal, Finland and Sweden. Stay fully present by turning off all electronics, including the radio and your phone so that you can engage with your family. If you model this for your children, they will likely follow your example.

Ways to Encourage Family Dinners

Now that you see the need for regular family meals, the following ways can encourage your kids to look forward to those times of bonding.

  • Bake or cook with your kids to further bonding. You can even make homemade pasta together with older kids.
  • Involve everyone in meal preparation and clean up.
  • Keep the table talk free from conflict and instead encouraging. Save intense conversations for another time.
  • Start a routine that fosters strong family traditions. Even something as small as singing a song together, saying grace or letting family members take turns and pick a favorite side dish or dessert once a week can make a difference.

Family dinners also promote positive moods and an optimistic outlook on life. Teens report that meal time is when they connect and talk with their parents. They express a reduced level of stress and a better relationship with parents when they eat together. This daily connection provides stability in an uncertain world and a way to help ground children. In addition to delicious food, families can relax, tell jokes, share events, make future plans and tell stories about what is happening in their daily lives. This support fosters a safe environment and strong connections amidst the hectic pace of life.

Author's Bio: 

Tyler Jacobson is a husband, father, freelance writer with experience with organizations that help troubled teens and parents. His areas of focus include: parenting, social media, addiction, mental illness, and issues facing teenagers today. Follow Tyler on: Twitter | LinkedIn