Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Family Dinner: Caught between a Teen, a Tween and a Toddler

Last week, the family calendar was bursting. My oldest is applying to public high school in New York City (a daunting process to the uninitiated), my youngest at 3 is starting to get birthday party invitations, and my middle one is balancing the usual 4th grade homework expectations, plus dance, acrobatics, sleepovers and social plans (HSM3!). It was a hectic and anxiety-provoking week, and our family dinners took a bit of a hit. There was food on the table every night, and at least one parent was in attendance, but it wasn't the whole crew sitting down at once the way it usually is. We all felt a little disconnected. I'm pretty sure the lack of a dinner routine just added to the stress.

Last night, I opted out of an evening meeting so that we would all be home, and it felt like the right decision. Everything was pretty calm, everyone went to bed on time. This week, there will be at least 3 normal weeknight dinners, which is probably the bare minimum we should schedule as our lives get increasingly busy. It's hard with the competing needs of a toddler, a tween, and a teen: more activities, more juggling, less time. But it's also increasingly necessary.

There is an old saying: Little kids, little problems; big kids, big problems. This adage used to annoy me, because when your baby's not sleeping through the night, it's a big problem. Yet, when you hear that a kid in your 13-year old's class had her stomach pumped because she took pills at a party, that seems like a pretty big problem. For my tween girl, you realize that as strong and smart girls can be, girls are sometimes the "risk-takers" at younger ages, can be more influenced by peer pressure, and tend to be better at deception. All of a sudden, staying connected with your kid is not a given, a luxury or a little problem.

I firmly believe that family dinners help keep parents and kids connected. Family dinners (or the connectedness it brings) can help protect kids from using drugs and alcohol. The most recent surveys indicate that most kids do not use drugs and alcohol, though they can get them if they want to, and at surprisingly young ages. Parent attitudes, expectations, and behaviors make a huge difference. CASA surveys indicate that five or more dinners a week are the most effective. To me, that number is to set a goal, not to set an impossible standard for families. Every dinner helps, and the routine and the expectation that you sit down together on a regular basis may be the most important of all.

Are parents passive pushers? CNN.com (10.24.08) reports on recent CASA survey (August 2008).
Increase Risk for Alcohol Problems in Adulthood when Consumption Starts Before Age 15. Medical News Today, 09.30.08

Drug Use Prevention Sites for Parents and Teens

For teens:

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