LONDON — Dinner, or any other meal for that matter, in the average suburban home is supposed to be a time for the family to come together, spend some time with each other, and share what is going in their lives. That is, at least, the general belief or notion that has persisted culturally for ages. Alas, it seems “the times they are a-changing” — according to a new survey of 2,500 U.K. parents, a third of families sit in complete silence during meal time.
It seems that many parents just don’t know what to talk about with their kids; three in ten respondents said they struggle to come up with dinner-time conversation topics.
Just sitting down at the dinner table together as a family is a struggle for many as well. The survey, put together by Tex-Mex food producer Old El Paso, found that four in 10 parents don’t even eat dinner at the same time as their children on most days. Additionally, one in 10 never eat dinner at the same time as their families.
All in all, only a fifth of respondents reported eating dinner with their families every night of the week.
“To get the most out of family mealtimes, the table needs to be filled with the happy noise of conversation, chat and laughter. The more we engage, the closer and more connected we feel to each other,” comments psychologist Dr. Linda Papadopoulos in a statement. “And children need to be part of this as it’s a vital part of developing their social skills. There is something truly wonderful about the happy sounds produced by a vibrant family meal.”
Unfortunately, the survey also revealed that even when families are able to sit down together for a meal, there is no shortage of distractions. More than one in five respondents admitted they would rather watch TV than interact with their family, and 44% said they usually stare at their phones while eating.
Still, a third of surveyed families are still talking around the dinner table, and weekend plans (47%) was the most commonly reported topic of conversation, followed by school gossip (44%), the meal being eaten (43%), homework (37%) and popular TV shows (37%).
“There is evidence showing that stimulating conversation at mealtimes builds children’s confidence and self-esteem and in turn actually boost academic performance.” Dr. Papadopoulos explains. “In fact, they are beneficial to the whole families mental well-being, a time for everyone to unload. So it’s a good idea to try and make them part of your weekly routine.”