I’ve never given much thought to the family meal.
To me, it’s always been rather utilitarian — the food is ready at one time. We sit and eat at one time, while it’s hot and fresh. That’s about it.
But some recent reading on the topic leads me to believe there may be some wise method to this munchiness.
According to a flurry of studies done by accredited universities, children who participate often with their parents in family meals are less likely to smoke, drink or engage in promiscuous behavior, are healthier, and do better in school than their dining-and-dashing counterparts. By contrast, kids who seldom eat with their parents or guardians are more likely to smoke, drink, date a loser, litter and drop out of school — usually, within a 12-hour period. They are, though, statistically, better dancers.
So they have that going for them, which is nice.
I still wasn’t convinced. How can the act of simply sitting down and eating help children in school? What if their parents are morons? Or, before spell-check corrected me, morans?
It’s not just the custom of dining, say the experts. It’s in the dining customs.
“If it were just about food, we would squirt it into their mouths with a tube,” said Rutgers University anthropologist Robin Fox in a Time magazine piece on family meals I found on the interwebs. “A meal is about civilizing children. It’s about teaching them to be a member of their culture.”
Translated from anthropologistese, Fox said: Having a meal with your children means they are less likely to behave like wild animals.
Apparently, Fox never took a 3-year-old to a crowded restaurant. In that case, an adult’s presence doesn’t make the slightest difference (from my experience).
As stated, I’ve never really thought about the impact of our family dining together. At our home, we make meals, and the children just follow us wherever we go to eat. We’ve tried hiding, but they always find us.
So, I decided to conduct some research of my own, and actually pay attention during a family meal to see if any “civilizing of children” was occurring.
After a blessing, the gobbling commenced. A few moments of glorious silence followed. I decided to jumpstart the teaching of culture.
“So, did anything of interest happen today, kids?”
“No,” said the 17-year-old.
“Nah,” replied the 15-year-old.
"Nothing? C'mon. Tell me one thing you saw of interest today."
The 15-year-old broke the ensuing silence.
“I saw a dog pee on your car today,” he said between spoonfuls of corn.
“Yes,” I responded thoughtfully. “I noticed that.”
A few “pass the salts” later, another conversation starter commenced, this time by the older brother.
“I'm going to need some money for this weekend.”
He then launched into a breathless 10-minute soliloquy about how much money he needed for the weekend, and why. The back-and-forth Q-and-A lasted for another 20 minutes.
Can a frequent family meal “save” the family? I’m not certain. It’s definitely worth a try, some bucks, and a newspaper column.
Len Robbins is the editor of the Clinch County News.