Strengthening Your Family Around the Dinner Table

Want to reinforce your teen's sense of belonging? Make family dinner mandatory.

Boosting Teen Belonging with Family Dinner

Separating from parents is a key part of adolescent identity formation, but in the age of Facebook, texting, and videogames, some parents worry about a teens tuning them out completely. How can we maintain the family identity we’ve established over the years?

In generations past, the answer was family dinner. Actually, the answer’s still the same—adolescents need structure, and an evening routine can help them feel more emotionally secure. But getting everyone to sit down together gets harder with each year of high school, amidst the crush of homework and extracurriculars. Compromise with your teen on a schedule, and know that you may have to cut back on a few activities.

Family dinners provide the opportunity to share stories, tell jokes, and explore values. Studies have found that a teen who eats with her family reaps many benefits. And breaking bread together can strengthen adoptive family ties in many unique ways.

A Place at the Table

When our kids were younger, we told them, Adoption is forever. We will always be your parents. As they grow, we may not say those specific words, but its important to continue to claim them through our actions. We need to let them know that well still be their parents when they go off to college, and when they move out of the house for good.

For Sam, adopted from foster care at age 13, family dinner was a whole new experience. In foster homes, he was permitted to eat whatever he wanted, and, usually, in front of the television. Over time, Sam not only learned table manners, he also learned about sharing, compromise, and problem-solving. Knowing that his parents and siblings genuinely cared about what he had to say was a healing experience.

Mia, 19, was born in China, and dinner was a natural way for her family to validate her culture. Her mother purchased several Chinese cookbooks, and, once a week, Mia and her parents tried their hands at preparing the delicacies of her birth country. When teens are figuring out their own identities—how they are like and unlike both their adoptive and birth families—shared family experiences are important. When Mia graduated from high school, her mom compiled some of the family’s favorite recipes in a handmade cookbook. Mia now cooks a Chinese meal once a month for her sorority.

If schedules don’t allow for family dinner every evening, any meal together is beneficial. I grew up having big Sunday breakfasts. I knew this was something I wanted to pass on to my son. I look forward to the day when he will think back on his breakfasts with us—In our family, we always have awesome Sunday morning feasts!—and carry this tradition into another generation.

Copyright © 1999-2024 Adoptive Families Magazine®. All rights reserved. For personal use only. Reproduction in whole or in part without permission is prohibited.

More articles like this