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The psychology of eating together with your family

Veronica Liow and Christian Alvarez

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Dougherty students follow a trend: the more an adolescent dines with his or her family, the more likely he or she will experience positive familial relations on top of other benefits.

Students were asked, “How would you describe your relationship with your family?” and answered on a scale of one (negative) to five (positive). Of the 92 people who responded, 45.7 percent of students rated their familial relations as positive, 31.5 percent as somewhat positive, 16.3 percent as neutral, 4.3 percent as somewhat negative and 2.2 percent as negative.

Afterwards, students were asked how often per week they ate dinner with their families. Options varied from six to seven, three to five and zero to two times per week. Given the three options, 44.6 percent responded to eating six to seven times per week with their family, 28.3 percent responded to three to five and 27.3 percent responded to zero to two.

Of the two students who rated their familial relations as negative, they both ate with their families only zero to two times per week. Of the four students who rated their familial relations to be somewhat negative, again, all responded that they ate with their families only zero to two times per week. Essentially, we see that of the 92 total who were surveyed, those who ate with their family infrequently tended to have more negative familial relations.

The majority of those who rated their familial relations as somewhat positive or positive in general eat with their families at least three times per week. However, a few outliers exist in which people who rated their familiar relations as positive also responded that they only ate with their families zero to two times per week. The survey did not test for controls such as the number of family activities outside of family dining. As a result, potential explanations for why these outliers exist include how teenagers, though do not eat with their families frequently, may still be able to bond with their families through other means.

Overall, there appears to be a moderately positive correlation between eating with one’s family and the quality of one’s familial relations.

But eating with one’s family provides benefits beyond improved relations. Households that eat meals together tend to be more well off — both physically and emotionally — than those that do not for several reasons.

Physically being next to one’s family during an intimate activity such as feeding oneself compels participants to interact with each other in some way or another. Unless one inherently tries to avoid communication by all means, it is almost impossible for a family not to communicate when eating together.

Through this “forced” interaction, adolescents can not only improve familial relations through bonding and “catching up” but also develop their communication skills. Especially for younger children, family dinners can provide an “opportunity to learn new words and knowledge” (aboutkidshealth.ca).

Studies have even shown that there is a positive correlation between children’s literacy rates and the number of meals children eat with their families (aboutkidshealth.ca).

Cody C. Delistraty, a journalist for the Atlantic, discusses how after his mother died, he would usually eat separately from his father, until one day when his father announced that they should eat together.

According to Delistraty, eating together with his father had a positive impact on his emotional state, even citing it as “one of the happiest parts of my day.”

He explains further that family dinners were “ therapeutic:  an excuse to talk, to reflect on the day and on recent events.”

Additionally, research shows that compared to those who eat with their families two or fewer times per week, those who eat with their families five or more times per week are actually less likely to abuse drugs such as cigarettes and alcohol (sparkpeople.com).

A study conducted by the National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse supports the above, revealing that “teens who eat fewer than three family dinners per week compared to those who eat five to seven a week are twice as likely to use alcohol and tobacco and one and a half times more likely to use marijuana” (psychologytoday.com)

However, research administered by The New York Times only supports the above conclusions to a certain extent; the gap pertaining to drug and alcohol abuse between adolescents who eat with their families twice per week and those who do so seven days per week is not very large at nine percentage points.

More research from Psychology Today found that “regular family dinners might not bear as much importance as many may claim.”

Nonetheless, there is statistical data backing up a correlation between increased academic performances and frequency of dining with one’s family. Children tend to do better at school the more they eat with their parents, largely due to increased morale and confidence gained from interacting with family members (sparkpeople.com)

Furthermore, since meals eaten with the family tend to be prepared by the family, ingredients used are fresher and more predictable than those in foods bought at a restaurant or fast food place. Eating with parents also helps prevent kids from making terrible meal decisions, which could contribute to them becoming overweight over time. According to The Atlantic, 40 percent of children who eat with their family less than twice a week tend to become overweight.

Eating with parents can serve not only as a regulator for overeating but also as a way to prevent certain mental eating disorders from overpowering teens. Children who eat with parents are 35 percent less likely to partake in disordered eating, as a result of the company provided by parents.

All in all, according to previous studies as well as the study conducted on Dougherty students, the more a person eats with his or her family, the more likely he or she has a positive familial relationship and can reap the emotional and physical benefits of family dinners.

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The official student news site of Dougherty Valley High School.
The psychology of eating together with your family