Teens & Family Dinnertime
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Teens & Family Dinnertime
What just happened to dinner time? When the kids were younger, we
always (or almost always) made and shared a nice dinner every
night. Somehow, during a recent finals period, the kids said they
had too much homework and didn't have time to sit at the table,
taking their plates with them and retreating to their rooms. Now,
it's almost a nightly thing. They are 16 and 18, a sophomore and
senior in high school, and admittedly they have a lot of homework
and they're not just on FB (well, at least our sophomore). It
really takes the fun out of shopping, planning, and preparing a
nice meal. Any suggestions how to lure them back to the table? Do
other families share this experience? I miss serving them a proper
dinner at the table, I think meals eaten at tables in a calm manner
encourage a more healthy relationship with food, not to mention I
like seeing them, checking in them, and enjoying the evening meal
together after a long hectic day. Any ideas as to how to resume a
more regular, functional meal time would be appreciated (or you can
just mention that in your household, your teens eat on the run as
well and I should accept this as the new normal).
There's goes another important ritual
Call a family meeting and state that family dinner is required,
unless someone has a meeting or sports practice that means they
can't be at the house. My teens have a lot of homework, too,
but no one is working so hard that they can't spend 15-20 minutes
at the table. It's really important to stand your ground here --
family dinner is a touchstone for the day. Good luck.
I don't know if this would work for you, but we are able to keep
on having dinner together in spite of out-of-control homework
because our teen does homework at the dinner table rather than in
her room. We usually get her to clear her books out of the way
and stop working while we all eat, but if necessary she can keep
on reading -- sometimes we talk about what she's studying,
sometimes she just ignores us but at least we're all together at
the table. So basically we make dinner happen around her
studying. Not ideal, but o.k.
My daughter has also tried to eliminate the family dinner, but we
haven't let her. My argument to her is the 15 - 20 minutes it
takes to sit down at the table will not impede her homework, and
she'll waste at least that much time in the evening any way.
About once every two weeks we let her eat in her room, but as a
general rule she has to come to the table even if she isn't
hungry - but she doesn't have to eat if she doesn't want to.
Once she realized we wouldn't concede she got back on schedule,
and even quit arguing that she didn't need to eat.
Stick to your guns - its worth it
We have kids the same age and I know it's hard to get everyone
together for dinner. But they don't have to sit at the table for
long; I call my sons to the table when food is ready, they wolf
it down in about ten minutes and then we let them leave. So, I
don't think it's unreasonable for you to demand that they eat at
the table. We do talk at mealtimes but I find that most of my
parent/teen conversations take place in the car, no escape unless
they leap out of a moving car!
Restoring the ''dinner hour'' is worth a struggle. We had lost
ours just as you did, but have mostly resurrected it. We made a
big effort, partly because we do academic research into
adolescent well-being, and see family meals consistently
associated with better teen outcomes (although the relationship
may not be causal).
It took full commitment by both parents to re-instate family
dinners. We stopped allowing eating except at the table. The
most important change was getting our children more involved in
cooking and and after-dinner cleanup. We give them a ''point''
for every five minutes spent on housework (including cooking).
Once they earn a minimum required number of weekly points
(age-based), they can trade points earned in excess of that
number for an hourly wage (50 cents per year of age, so a
14-year-old gets $7 an hour, e.g.)
For some reason, cooking caught on with them as a way to earn
points and money, and they now do a large share of the cooking in
our house. We also instituted a rule that no one leaves the
kitchen and dining room until all the cleanup is done. We all
pitch in. There was violent protest at the start, but now
there's only sporadic grumbling. Having cooked with us (or for
us) and set the table, it's almost automatic that they eat with
The time they used to save by having us do all the work didn't
really go into homework anyway. Facebook and Hulu ate it.
Some nights it's still a trial, but both of us think it is worth
the investment in their future eating habits and family lives.
Love dinner with my family
You don't have to accept the loss of dinner hour, especially if
your kids are actually in the house! We have a few nights here
and there when we don't eat together, mostly when my kids are
coming and going at odd times. Otherwise, they stop what they are
doing, eat, visit for a bit, and go back to their work. They are
your kids, not your roommates. You can tell them that taking a
brief break is actually going to be good for them and that
they'll be more refreshed when they return to their studying.
In general, I don't allow my kids to eat in their rooms anymore.
They forget dishes, get food in their beds, etc. It is really
Your house, your rules mom!
I don't think you should be concerned about what the ''new
normal'' is. These are your values, and they are not extreme and
you are not out of touch. For me, the dinner hour together is
very important, for the same reasons you stated, even though it
really only lasts about 20 minutes or so at my house, and it's
just my daughter and me (older child off at college and husband
works late). We've always done it this way, so I haven't had to
un-do the separate dinners in bedrooms routine. Can you express
to your kids why you think dinner together is important, in
addition to pointing out how much work you put into preparing
dinner, and asking that they respect that? (Or even demanding
OK, at the risk of sounding harsh - how you do this is, YOU be
the PARENT and insist that there be a family dinner together,
When my step-son was a teen, the RULE was that we sat down at the
table for dinner, together, EVERY night, and NO TV allowed.
Here's what happened: often, he would come home and say, ''I have
lots of homework tonight; I can't stick around and talk after
dinner tonight'' - implying that he would come to the table, eat
with us, then dash back to his room. And yet, 97% of the time
that he said this, HE was the one who initiated some discussion
about something that happened in school, or something going on in
current events, or something that he had learned in school - and
we'd all be there, still talking, for 30 minutes or more after
dinner. (Also, he almost always wanted to watch some rerun of
The Simpsons while we ate - which we also said no to. But on the
rare occasions that we had the show on, he'd start a
conversation, and the show would run, unwatched, in the
background - further proof that despite what he said he wanted,
what he really wanted was to connect with us.)
Here's the secret about teens - they act like they don't want you
all up in their tree, but secretly (unknown even to
themselves!!), they want you there. My step-son was shining
proof of that, night after night.
Sitting together to eat takes all of 15 or 20 minutes. Please
don't let them retreat to their rooms. This should not even be
an option (or only a rare one). Your insistence on time together
tells them that you care, and that you want to connect with them.
(And by the way, what about you and your feelings? You are
letting yourself be un-important - not a very good adult
- they may groan and grumble now, but they will thank you
I think the first thing is to ask them why they don't want a
family dinner and find out if you can improve the dinner hour to
lure them back. I don't know why they don't want to eat dinner
with you anymore, but there are several possibilities. You were
forcing them to eat food they don't like. You were criticizing
them. You were asking too many questions. You were sharing too
much or too little about your own life. You were comparing them
to each other. People were arguing during dinner.
I would suggest having them do homework in the kitchen. And let
them eat dinner while they do their homework. Be the most calm,
supportive, loving parent you can. That way you are all together
and you get to find out about what they are studying at the
moment. It is not exactly the dinner hour you are after, but it
may be a good compromise.
I totally sympathize with your situation. I have an 18 y/o boy
and 16 y/o girl as well, except my 18 just left for college. we
used to have wonderful dinners daily, all four of us: them and my
husband. Then my husband got a project out of state and he is
home once a month, but we continued to have dinners daily the
three of us. Great dinners, I made them drop whatever they were
doing, come home from wherever they were (as long as they did not
make dinner plans away from home ahead of time), and I was very
welcoming of having their friends for dinner. So we continued to
enjoy dinners together. Now, with my 18 y/o gone to college and
my husband not at home it is just the two of us. My 16 y/o girl,
who argues with me all the time and who has no interest in
sharing anything with me, and myself. So... I still make an
effort for a great dinner daily during school days. No matter how
busy, stressed out, ''not hungry'' she is. I cook daily and she
knows it is important for us to touch basis at the end of the
day. I tell her so. and occasionally if she is in a good mood and
I have a delicious dinner plan she will even help me. I ask her.
And we play music (hers) and I let her 'lead' me in the
kitchen... She mostly likes it if I have a new recipe to follow
and to discover together. And those days are a treasure. Then I
give her free range over the weekend, (Friday and Saturday). She
can eat at her friends, or if she is home we order out or eat
left overs, depending on the situation. And we reconvene on
Sunday with a good dinner. I would suggest, if you can possibly
do it, reinstate your dinner time with your kids, do not allow
them to bring food in their room, specially if you have cooked
dinner, but even if you order out. Ask them to come to the table,
always. no matter how much homework. Once dinner is served it
does not take a lot of time to eat, so that should not be an
excuse to not sit at the table. Also, I had always call them to
set the table, since they were little. Now because of the 'too
busy' excuse I set the table and clean up most of the time, but
if I see that my daughter is FB or not too busy, she is called to
set the table as well as help with the cleaning. I hope you get
back to your dinner hour.
Still dining with my teen
this page was last updated: May 22, 2012
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