BY CHRISTOPHER GLEESON SJ
A report from the United States claims that children who were expected to sit down with the rest of the family at meal times, and who were encouraged to talk at the table, were doing better at school, had higher self-esteem, better social competence, and had better prospects of getting a job.
This report confirms a Melbourne study titled Talk Up at the Table, which was conducted more than 30 years ago. The author, foundation director of the Australian Institute of Family Studies Don Edgar, had been looking for the correlates of adolescent competence: which kids with what sorts of parents were most likely to do well.
He found that on almost every outcome measure – school results, self esteem, social competence, optimism versus pessimism, good parent-child relationships, an expectation of later success in life – the kids (whether rich or poor) who were allowed to chatter and exchange ideas at meal times scored significantly higher than those who were told to shut up and eat their meals.
At the time, he interpreted the meal talk factor as illustrative of an openness on the part of parents to the free expression of ideas, mutual respect within the family, and warmth and structure combining to give children a sense of place and security in their lives.
The new US study renews his faith in the efficacy of eating together and letting the meal talk flow. It may be noisy, argumentative and hard to manage, with parents and young people working different hours, but its outcomes are worth the trouble. Pity the poor family that never cooks its own meals, never sits at the one table, never has to cope with the noisy conflict of everyone wanting to talk at once.
From A Canopy of Stars: Some Reflections for the Journey by Fr Christopher Gleeson SJ [David Lovell Publishing 2003], accessed from Daily Prayer Online, 8 August 2012