Why You Should Drag Your Reluctant Teen to the Dinner Table


By: , SparkPeople Blogger
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I have a teenage son.  He is your typical high-schooler; he has his driving permit, participates in some school sports, and plays in the high school band.  He is striving for complete independence from his parents, yet is secretly still glad to have mom and dad around most of the time.  He often hangs out with his friends in my basement, playing pool, air-hockey, and euchre.  My husband and I have nick-named them the ''basement boys.''
So a few weeks ago, three of the ''basement boys'' decided to arrive on my front doorstep at 4:30 pm.  Their plan was to capture my son, eat at the local pizza place and then head to the basketball game.  I, on the other hand, had a better idea and invited them to stay for dinner and then go to the game.  Luckily, I had prepared a large pot of soup and had enough to feed the crew.  They agreed to stay for our evening meal. 
I called them to dinner and I knew full well that they expected to grab their soup and head to the ''man cave.'' As they turned to leave the kitchen, I said, ''WHOA! At this house, we eat our evening meal together at the dinner table."  They looked at my son for reinforcement, and he sheepishly replied, ''You’re not gonna change her mind.'' While they didn’t put up too much of a stink, I did hear all three of them say that they could not remember the last time they had eaten an evening meal with their parents and family.  Internally, I was horrified.  Externally, I remained disinterested, calm and poised.  I have discovered that this is usually the best approach to take with teenage boys.  Any sign of judgment or shock brings about complete silence and even more grunts and groans. I wondered what the heck we would discuss at our dinner table for the next 20-30 minutes.
Needless to say, my worries were quickly squelched. Luck was on my side, for there had been a drug search at the high school that day. The boys completely took over the conversation with a discussion about where drugs were found, on whom drugs were found, the antics of the drug-searching dogs, and the ramifications of the whole event. Once again, I took the best approach by remaining calm, disinterested and poised, while internally, I was processing every word. 
About two days later, I casually stated to my son, ''I found it interesting that your friends do not eat meals with their family.''  He gave me a quick shrug of the shoulders and a grunt, accompanied with something along the lines of, ''Mom, no one eats together anymore and if they do, they are also watching TV or texting.''  I know he is probably right about most of this; however, as a Registered Dietitian, it is hard for me to accept.  We are turning into an anti-social society and our children will be the ones to suffer.  While it was easy to bring the family together when my children were young, it is much more difficult with teens.  However, the simple act of eating together has so many benefits:
  • Family mealtime fosters family unity.  Developing a sense of family identity and togetherness helps children and teens to feel safe and secure in a confusing world. 
  • Family mealtime helps improve your child’s nutrition since parents tend to pay more attention to what is served at home.  There is an increase in fruits, vegetables, whole grains, lean meats and dairy foods, with fewer fried foods and soft drinks.  This also helps children to maintain a healthy weight.
  • Family mealtime helps prevent behavioral problems.  The more often that a family eats together, the less likely teenagers are to become depressed, use illegal drugs, abuse alcohol, smoke cigarettes, or get pregnant. 
  • Family mealtime helps children do well in school.  Mealtime conversations improve a child’s vocabulary, language skills, and verbal expression.  This helps with classroom work and test-taking. 
But let’s face it.  Even on nights that the healthy meal is prepared and your teens come to the table, there is always the risk that they will clam up and have nothing to discuss.  You will be viewed as the invading, nosy parent.  So here are 10 conversation starters for the family:
  1. Tell a joke you think will make other family members laugh.
  2. Share something you think the family should plan to do in the future.
  3. Share how you performed while playing a sport or musical instrument today.
  4. What is the most interesting new song or piece of music you have heard recently?
  5. Describe an unexpected compliment you gave or received from someone recently.
  6. Give the highlights of a book you have read recently.
  7. Name 2 of the most important people alive (in your opinion) and share why you chose them. 
  8. Share the most interesting new movie, DVD or TV show you have seen recently.
  9. If you could have a super power, what would it be and why?
  10. Share how your favorite team or player in a college or professional sport performed today.
For those of you with teens to feed, what is going on in your home?  Are you able to get your teens to the table several nights a week?  What topics are they willing to discuss?  Any tips to share with our members?


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