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Family Dinners Key to Children’s Health

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By: Julie Jargon & Andrea Petersen – wsj.com – October 8, 2022

For busy families, gathering together for dinner can feel like an impossibility. Children could use it now more than ever.

Robin Black-Burns’s teenage daughter has after-school activities that fall over dinnertime, making evening meals at home a thing of the past. The SUV has become their de facto dinner table.

Ms. Black-Burns’s daughter, 14-year-old Athena Burns, has dinner in the car four nights a week, eating during the hourlong drive home from robotics-club meetings. Ms. Black-Burns usually arrives at her daughter’s school 15 minutes early to eat her own dinner in the front seat while waiting for Athena.

Athena, a freshman at a private high school in Virginia, had a similarly demanding evening schedule in middle school. The mother and daughter have been eating on the go for years. Their dining table was so underused that two years ago Ms. Black-Burns donated it, converting the family dining room into a lounge.

“We wonder why so many kids have anxiety,” Ms. Black-Burns says. “Well, gee, they have a rigorous academic schedule and after-school activities and they’re eating in the car.”

A youth mental-health crisis that was building for a decade before the pandemic has worsened over the past two years. In 2021, 44% of high-school students said they felt persistently sad or hopeless in the past year, according to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. At the same time, mounting scientific research shows that gathering for regular meals and conversation might be one way to build children’s emotional resilience.

Nationwide surveys show that the number of dinners parents and children eat together has fallen in recent decades. The primary reason: the conflicting schedules of working parents and kids.

“It’s so basic that people forget about it,” says Ellen Rome, head of the Center for Adolescent Medicine at Cleveland Clinic Children’s Hospital in Ohio. Gathering around the table, Dr. Rome says, is “a useful mechanism for creating connectedness and role-modeling behaviors that parents want children to emulate.”

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Source: Family Dinners Are Key to Children’s Health. So Why Don’t We Eat Together More? – WSJ

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