Study shows connection in dinner, mental health

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Julia Waldow, print editor-in-chief

Teenagers who partake in regular family dinners are more likely to have positive mental health, according to a recent study conducted by researchers at McGill University. The study, which examines data from 26,000 adolescents ages 11 to 15, explains that those who eat supper with their families are likelier to maintain “greater emotional well-being, more trusting and helpful behaviors towards others and higher life satisfaction,” according to the study’s co-author, Frank Elgar.

“We were surprised to find such consistent efforts on every outcome we studied,” Elgar told HealthDay Magazine. “From having no dinners together to eating together seven nights a week, each additional dinner related to significantly better mental health.”

Like the researchers, students at Beverly who eat with their families believe that family dinners act as opportunities for open conversations that contribute to a more positive household environment.

“It’s a time when you can talk to your family members, just recap the day or discuss anything you might need help on,” senior Cleo Egnal said. “It’s just a great way to connect with your family.”Screen shot 2013-05-24 at 12.48.48 PM

Beverly’s school psychologist, Gene Michelman, believes that family dinners can improve the relationship between parents and teenagers who might distance themselves.

“Even as a teenager, you’re trying to move away from childhood and toward becoming an independent adult,” she said. “But [if] parents [aren’t] there providing that structure, that creates anxiety for kids out there on their own. Family dinner can help mental health, because it means that you have parents who are actively involved.”

Michelman stresses that teens and children who are not able to have family dinners due to their guardians’ work schedules can still maintain positive mental health through a variety of other factors.

“Even if you can’t have dinner every night, if you just sit down and the television is off and the phones are down, [and] even if there is nothing important to say, just being able to feel that you can say what’s going on in your life lets parents keep up with their kids and lets kids know that parents are really interested,” she said.

More information about the McGill University study and the correlation between positive mental health and family suppers can be read in the April issue of the “Journal of Adolescent Health.”

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