Teenagers Mental Health Nourished By Family Dinners
March 21, 2013

Dinner With The Family Nourishes Teenagers’ Mental Health

April Flowers for redOrbit.com - Your Universe Online

Parents have long thought of the family dinner as a time when they could catch up with their children and share in their day. A new study led by McGill University's Institute for Health and Social Policy reveals a new reason for having dinner as a family. Regular family suppers, the study suggests, contribute to good mental health in teenagers. These mealtimes are measurable signatures of social exchange that benefit the adolescents' well-being — regardless of whether or not they feel they can easily talk to their parents.

"More frequent family dinners related to fewer emotional and behavioral problems, greater emotional well-being, more trusting and helpful behaviors towards others and higher life satisfaction," says Dr. Frank Elgar, an associate professor in the Faculty of Medicine's Department of Psychiatry at McGill, whose research focuses on social inequalities in health and family influences on child mental health.

Elgar and his colleagues, Wendy Craig and Stephen Trites of Queen's University, looked at the relation between frequency of family dinners and positive and negative aspects of mental health. The study used a national sample of 26,069 adolescents aged 11 to 15 years who participated in the 2010 Canadian Health Behavior in School-Aged Children study, finding the same positive effects of family dinnertime on the mental health of young participants. This positive effect was present regardless of gender, age or family affluence.

"We were surprised to find such consistent effects on every outcome we studied," says Elgar. "From having no dinners together to eating together 7 nights a week, each additional dinner related to significantly better mental health."

Adolescent participants submitted weekly data on the frequency of family dinners, ease of parent-adolescent communication and five dimensions of mental health. The mental health dimensions consisted of internalizing and externalizing problems, emotional well-being, more helpful behaviors and life satisfaction.

The results suggest that family dinners are opportunities for open family interactions. Such interactions present teaching opportunities for parents to shape coping skills and positive health behaviors like good nutritional choices. They are also good times for the teenagers to express concerns and feel valued. These are all elements that are conducive to good mental health in adolescents.

The study was published in a recent issue of the Journal of Adolescent Health.