How valuable is the "family dinner"

Allison Aubrey reports on "Family Dinner: Treasured Tradition Or Bygone Ideal?" on NPR's All Things Considered. Here's an excerpt:

Our NPR poll, conducted with the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and the Harvard School of Public Health, finds about a quarter of children surveyed live in homes where — on a given night — the TV is on, or someone is using an electronic device. (The poll was based on a nationally representative sample of U.S. households with children. About 1,000 caregivers are included.)

The poll also found that, despite families ranking a family meal as a high priority, about half of children live in a home where, on a given night, families don't sit down together to eat or share the same food.

Lots of families we heard from told us that family dinners are special times: They just don't happen every night. For many, it's a weekend dinner where everyone looks forward to being together. But for a choice few, it seems, family dinner is the glue that holds the family together...

Several studies have suggested that regular family meals contribute to healthy eating habits. For instance, one study found that middle-school kids who routinely ate with their families tended to be healthier eaters when they reached high school. And there also seems to be emotional benefits as well.

"We think family dinners matter because they provide an opportunity for families to sit down together, to relax, to communicate, to share happenings about their day" says Kelly Musick, an associate professor at Cornell University whose research focuses on modern family dynamics.

But in an era when so many families are stretched thin, it's possible that a nightly dinner may not be the prime opportunity for communicating or relaxing together. If a meal is slap-dash and stressful, is it really making a family stronger? Musick says it's not clear.

"Our research shows that the benefits of family dinners are not as strong or as lasting as previous studies suggest," says Musick.

The family dinner is iconic in part for its use in story development: it is a staple of print, TV, and movies where relationships between characters are revealed. It is assumed that this reflects real life, and those who see its demise often suggest that this illustrates "what is wrong" with modern life.

How much of this is true?

Comments (1)

Growing up in the midwest, we always had dinner as a family. I'm saddened by the fact that this special family time has diminished. This is nothing new. I remember 20 years ago we were having this discussion and its impact on how we as a church view and celebrate the Eucharist. In my church here in Southern California, I notice a growing lack of respect at Communion time. For example, this past Sunday there were numerous attendees who left right after they received Communion. And these were not young people. We live in predominately retired area and these were the older church members who left. I'm sure our Rector noticed it because the look on his face was the same I would have if I had a dinner party and a few of my guests would just get up after eating and leave.
For me, Eucharist is a family meal starting when I arrive, during the liturgy of the Word, the Eucharist, then gathering afterwards for the coffee social.
To paraphrase Kelly Musick, "I think Eucharist matters because it provides an opportunity for us as Church to sit down together, to relax, to communicate, to share happenings about our week."

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