Dr. Zickler talks about Family Dinner Statistics
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Dr. Zickler talks about Family Dinner Statistics

I’ve heard it time and again from ‘starting out’ families and ‘well established’ families alike. They’ll tell me that the family dinner is the cornerstone of a solid family dynamic. It’s supposed to be one of those events that you just don’t miss. And if you do, you take some time to connect later.

I’m all for family dinners. I think they’re a great idea. They give parents a wonderful opportunity to connect with their kids again. To ask about their day. To see where they are in their life.

But recently, I read a study detailing how the family dinner may not be as important as we once thought.
Sure, it works for some. But, is it really worth extra time and stress, say, in a low-income single-parent household? Maybe not.

The Statistics Behind Family Dinners
In the June edition of the Journal of Marriage and Family, Kelly Musick and her team explain how family dinners are common in well-functioning families, but they’re not necessarily the cause of a family functioning well.
This even carries over into adulthood for the kids. Delinquency, depression, and substance abuse problems don’t seem to be caused by a lack of family dinners.
Instead, lots of factors play a much bigger role.

It turns out that regular family dinners are much more easily managed in families that:

  • Have adequate free time
  • Live in a higher income bracket
  • Spend more good-quality time together
  • are closer overall
  • communicate regularly and openly
  • Have both biological parents present
  • have a non-employed (stay-at-home) mother

This statistics data was gathered from about 18,000 children studied over a long period of time. Numbers come from the National Longitudinal Survey of Adolescent Health.

Why These Family Dinner Statistics are the Case
In the study, the researchers were led to believe that regular family dinners are the vehicle for good family practices, leading to more well-rounded kids that stay out of both medical and legal trouble.
While not the cause of a stronger family connection, family dinners give parents the time and environment to make valuable connections.

Here’s what’s likely to happen at a solid family dinner:

  • Parents can keep an eye on their children, emotionally. If a child is struggling with a life issue, it’s much more likely to come up, or at least show itself subtly, when a parental connection is more frequent.
  • Academic activities can be discussed. This can lead to the early identification of problems or special aptitudes. For example, if a child is consistently struggling in math, it might be time for a tutor, or maybe reading glasses if the front board can’t be seen. Likewise, a child might show a great interest in music or sports, which could lead to classes or team registration.
  • Through dinner discussions, family values can be communicated, most likely by example or through sharing daily events.

But more than this, family dinners were said to be just one example of a wide spectrum of routines, practices, and ‘rituals.’ This structured lifestyle better communicates values and priorities.
My key take-away from this? Family dinners may not be as effective without the underlying support.
Family dinner statistics, like most statistics, always have to be interpreted.



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