Young people need a happy hour at the dinner table with their family. Let me explain what i am thinking.
I saw some stuff on TV a few weeks ago that got me thinking. UK has a serious problem with badly behaved, foul-mouthed, binge-drinking youth. [Sounds like they interviewed that church youth group I visited in London]. According to a recent study by the Institute for Public Policy Research called Freedom’s Orphans, British youth are worse in most areas of behaviour compared to their counterparts on the continent.
“Measured against German, French and Italian youngsters, British 15-year-olds are drunk more often and involved in more fights, and a higher proportion have had sex”. Link
The only countries with worse binge-drinking youth are Ireland [who woudda thunk??] and Denmark. As fate would have it, I will be in Denmark in a few days and will probably rub this statistic in their Danish faces to make me feel a little better about the country I live in.
One of the solutions, according to researchers, is the family meal.
“Some 93% of Italian teenagers eat regularly with their families; in the UK just 64% of 15-year-olds do the same. . . Nick Pearce, director of the IPPR, told the BBC last night the figures pointed to an “increasing disconnect” between children and adults, with young people learning how to behave from each other. He said: “Because they don’t have that structured interaction with adults, it damages their life chances. They are not learning how to behave – how to get on in life – as they need to.” link
The answer for our family?
Well, we live in the UK and our oldest kid is now 15 [what a co-incidence!!!!] and he runs off from meal times as fast as he can. I think an extended dinner table experience might be a good start. What I am working on right now is a one hour interactive meal hosted each week at our dinner table. I was thinking of calling it “Happy Hour” [although the origin of the term ‘happy hour‘ might call for a different name ] and it should include
– A well thought out menu
– A spectacular and ostentatious dessert.
– Some table games or quizzes that lead to “structured interaction”.
– A prayer before the meal (grace) and maybe extended grace to cover the events of the moment.
– A higher level of table manners
– Conversation about issues and relevant stuff.
– No running off until the ENTIRE HOUR has passed.
We are thinking about Tuesday night at 6pm. Any ideas out there? Any veterans? Any other families that want to hook up with us and swap war stories?
IPPR Report (Freedom’s Orphans),
[executive summary PDF]
UK Youths ‘Among Worst in Europe’, BBC
Revolting Youth [YouthNet blog]
UK Youths Top European Bad Behaviour League
Youth Behavior, Guardian, May 2006
Thanks, Andrew, for this interesting post.
We’ve lived in France for nearly a year (as missionaries from the UK), and very quickly noticed that the family unit still appears to have a stronger place in society here than it does in the UK, with mealtimes being one of the most obvious examples. In general, children and young people are a lot more respectful towards adults here than in the UK, at least in my experience. Of course, this is a generalisation, so what I’m not saying is that all children are respectful towards adults. Equally, I’m not saying that things aren’t deteriorating – the importance of the family unit is being eroded here in the same way as in the UK – it’s just a little further behind.
As for having a once-a-week “happy hour” extended meal-time, what a fabulous idea! Please let us know if and when you put it into practice, and how it goes.
thanks Rob. An article based on these statistics said French youth are ten years behind UK, and the author was French.
Thanks Andrew … I cannot say how much I value the family meal. We strived to have one every night, and, even when our daughter was a teenager, we succeeded for all but one or two nights a week. Some families choose to do family breakfast, but I don’t like mornings much. 🙂
We’ve also hosted exchange students from France, Germany, Austria, Korea and Thailand over the years. Those students also had family meals with us. I think the key is keeping the conversation friendly … and mutual. Don’t expect your teenagers to share with you, unless you also share just as vulnerably with them. And, we’d talk alot about current events, politics, etc. It was easy since we were hosting young people who were totally new to American culture. Some of them thought the family dinner table was an “american” thing. But some of the friends from school who came over for dinner were amazed … they actually had to sit for 30-45 minutes or more for dinner with the family! I wouldn’t trade it for anything.
Our only daughter is now 17 years old and away at college. She is, to my best knowledge, not a drinker. My husband and I miss her most at dinner.
Wow, i am wondering what kind of experience is ahead for me. Our Kids are a bit younger than yours (the girl almost 8 and the boy almost 10. But Josia starts asking “Can I leave the table Dad…?” As it is probably in your house we have a lot of people eating with us. So i think it is an good idea to spare time on a regular basis for “Just family meals”. But i do not know if once a week is enough?
Andrew – I saw the same reports and they also got me thinking. Why not as part of your regular “happy hour” invite another adult who is not part of your imediate family with whom you think your kids would connect. I’m not downplaying the importance of mum and dad here – I firmly believe that deep down even the most rebelious teen wants mum and dad’s attention, love and acceptance, but it’s good for kids to have that wider network of safe adults to whom they can relate and to whom they can go to with stuff that’s hard for them to go to mum or dad with.
Wendy – we also have hosted international students in our home like you and meal time was really important.
Brodie – good idea, and also allowing the kids to invite their friends when they feel it is appropriate.
And Marcus – we already make a big deal of certain meals (sunday roast, friday pizza, thursday vegetarian, etc) but this would be a more structured one hour experience .
Good post. I just finished a summer intensive at Fuller in the school of psychology on Narrative Therapy for my MFT program.
We discussed at length what you are describing. The family meal is central to family life in helping set traditions for a family. It also provides that consistent “anchor” in a kids life….though they may not talk or share, they can count on it to be there. Which will allow them to be open when the time calls. I was trying to find some of the links we used…couldn’t yet…but here is a basic one…. http://parenting247.org/article.cfm?ContentID=688&strategy=2&AgeGroup=4
Andrew, I as well appreciated your post. I spent a little while in Cameroon this summer with some students from our church and one of our biggest impressions was how much Cameroonians place on community and family. They sang and worshiped every night together as families.
Our girls are 8 and 5 and after coming home, I decided that whenever we ate dinner together, I would read a little something from that Voice of the Faithful book – which is perfect because it’s pretty short and tells some great stories from people all over the world.
Ok, now for the Latin American take on family dining…speaking generally, families here in Mexico place great importance on family communal meals (but remember that the U.S. & Western Euro version of the “nuclear family” is in the minority here – the families here are huge – uncles, aunts, cousins, etc etc). It has been my observation that the teens here prioritize and value this trans-generational interaction just as much as the adults.
sounds more like the “oikos” concept of extended family in the new testament.
I’m in the USA & grew up in a great Christian family. Dad’s a pastor & has been since before I was born.
We had breakfast together every morning. We had dinner together every night. My folks, me, and my sister. And it didn’t end when we became teenagers. I’m sure there were nights when one of us would be gone for something, but those were rare.
We didn’t have anything fancy. No “Happy Hour” or anything like that. But we did do some kind of devotional thing at breakfast (just reading Our Daily Bread, if I remember right), and we always talked about our day at dinner.
It’s a pattern I hope my wife and I continue once we have kids of our own.
We have had a family meal time most weekday evenings (Mon-Thurs) at about 6pm around the table with our two teenage boys. This has encouraged conversation and interaction for about 30 minutes each time which has been really good. I am sure that this discipline has been helpful in communicating values and in understanding the issues we all face in life. We are profoundly grateful to God for the way they are turning out. Our eldest is now at Uni and has a really good bunch of friends. Our youngest is in his final year at school and is happy to have a reputation for being “Mr Nice Guy”
Cindy and I feel blessed to have children that walk in the footsteps of the Lord. Shiloh is a sophmore at Boston University and has established a reputation there as the “Christian”. She has many unsaved friends and shares her faith openly with them whenever God opens the door. Jedidiah is a junior in high school now, and he has a quiet, steadfast faith that blesses the hearts of his mother and I. Sky, a spunky 1o year old love the Lord, and is working his way through the book of Genesis at the moment. Ever since they were little we have had our family devotion time after the evening meal. We read the Word, share stories, memorize Scripture, pray, and generally have a wonderful time. I believe this time we spend each evening has been key in turning the hearts of our children towards home, and to higher things. Recently, I have been working on a series of devotions written around events in American history that have Scriptural applications. Being a history teacher, I wanted to combine my love for the subject with the teachings and principles of the Word. Sometimes it is hard to find good devotional material for families. (not that mine are “good”, just a change of pace, I guess). Anyway, with Shiloh off to university, we miss her presence at the table, but speak of her constantly, and carry on the family tradition of evening “happy hour”. I feel strongly that families that meet together on a daily basis around the Word are less likely to suffer so many of the pitfalls of families today.
Having taught at university for over a dozen years, I wholly endorse the family meal for the skills it brings to young people. Many of my students struggle to obtain employment, and it is not their formal education that holds them back, it is their lack of “social education” that is a problem.
Things that I learned from my parents around the dinner table (with 4 siblings), included appropriate table manners, how to make small talk, conversational subjects that should NOT take place at the dinner table, how to serve food to others, etc.
Most students reported feeling very ill at ease when they were invited to luncheon interviews, so I started to provide a course session each semester covering issues such as what NOT to order on an interview (spaghetti tops the list), which utensils to use and when, whether the student should drink during an interview, who picks up the tab, etc. This has proven to be immensely popular with the kids, but it leads me to wonder where their parents were when they were growing up.