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Every child has been forced to sit down at a family dinner for the sake of bringing the family together. But at point do family dinners do more harm than good? And where is the line past which family dinners are more destructive than beneficial? Family dinners to not help create healthy family environments. Instead, healthy family environments help create family dinners.

Studies constantly show that teens raised in families who have dinner together are less likely to abuse drugs or alcohol as a teen, so every new parent is pressured to force family dinners upon their children, else risk losing their children to alcohol and drugs as a teenager. But in a culture of busy working parents and quick meals, these forced family dinners are used as a substitute, not a compliment, for quality family time.

This article provides links to a few different research studies that provide a more in depth look at the association between family dinners and the positive effects on children. The researchers say that, “we found no direct, lasting effects of family dinners on mental health, drug and alcohol use or delinquency.” This was after they accounted for the quality of family relationships, the degree to which parents monitored their kids, how they spent their time together and the availability of financial resources. It appears strong family connections make a difference, not the family dinner.

Family dinners are a kind of catch 22. For families that struggle with their relationships, parents will try to force family dinners. They are often crammed into everyone’s schedules, filled with bickering and complaints, and increase tension between family members. By the current logic, if your family is broken, family dinners are the solution. But family dinners don’t really work unless the family is close, and so they only end up creating more problems.  Families ignore the real solution, which are quality family interactions in a nonstressful environment.

While our readings debate the evidence of a decline in family dinners and what it means, research should instead be focused on how families spend time together and how that affects family relationships. Relaxed family dinners with casual healthy conversations are beneficial, but there are other ways to improve family relationships than forced family dinners.


1. Does your family spend time eating together?

2. Are these family dinners stressful or relaxed?

3. Does your family make an effort to spend time together outside of the dinner table and are these interactions more beneficial toward family relationships?


3 Responses to “Family Dinners Aren’t Always the Answer”

  1. sjksjk says:

    My family did spend every dinner, at least, eating together. I do recall that we made an effort to eat at the same time, but sometimes it would not work out that way. However, it wasn’t extremely important and was not enforced severely. From the beginning, I was raised to build my schedule AROUND the family dinner time, and it was never a huge issue with me or my sister. Family dinners are always relaxed! Unless someone has brought home a bad report card or something.

    Regarding family relationships, I think that having dinner together is an important event in the day that CAN improve a family, but it isn’t the only one. I still think it is one of the more significant things that a family can do, but it should not be forced to a destructive extent.

  2. annakai says:

    When I was growing up, my family rarely ate dinner together (unless it was a holiday/ birthday). It wasn’t that we weren’t close, we just all had such different schedules that we ended up eating dinner at different times. When I was really little, my mom would often make me and my younger brother’s dinner first and then her and my dad would eat their “grown up” dinner after. I didn’t think much of this until I would go over to my best friends house for dinner, and her family ALWAYS sat down and ate together. I remember becoming really insecure about my family’s eating routine because we didn’t fit this “social norm” of gathered family meals. For a long time I worried that we were doing something wrong, and if my friends or teachers ever asked if my family ate dinner at the same time, I would lie and say “yeah, of course!”. Eventually I realized that not eating dinner together wasn’t “wrong” in any way, and my family was and always will be close despite the fact that we didn’t always share our last meal of the day together. We spent time in together in other ways, like having movie nights, going to the beach, watching Survivor together every Thursday night, and playing board games. I am not against family dinners in any way, I think they are great in fact, but from personal experience I know that a family can still be very close and very happy with or without the shared meal time.

  3. jkorn says:

    I think family dinners are a very generational aspect in that my grandmother always tells me how my dad and his siblings would always sit down and eat at the same time everyday. Also, my grandmother always cooked for my dad’s family and rarely went out to eat. Contrasting a lot to my family in that my mom cooks about 4 nights of the week and we try to eat dinner together as a family but some nights my mom is working late and other nights my dad has meetings. So, I think the emphasis of family dining is definitely a generational experience and has changed from the past.

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