Table Talk Study after study has shown that families who regularly eat dinner together have better-adjusted kids than those who don't. Why is less clear. To tease out just what might make those mealtimes so productive, Robyn Fivush and Marshall Duke, psychology professors at Atlanta's Emory University, zeroed in on the ways families talk around the dinner table. They recorded the dinnertime discussions of 40 families whose members included a child between ages 9 and 12. Two years later, the researchers used standard psychological tests to evaluate the youngsters' self-confidence, behavior, peer relations and other measures of well-being.
Telling Tales While chatting about the day's events -- What did you do in school? Guess what happened at the office! -- was common, Fivush found that families that elaborated on those stories and encouraged everyone to participate in the storytelling were most likely to have well-adjusted teens. Better yet: Those that collaboratively recounted more remote bits of history -- their own or that of relatives -- were most likely to have teenagers with high self-esteem and a strong sense of their place in the world. These kids also had "fewer behavior problems, including fewer internalizing problems such as depression and anxiety and fewer externalizing problems such as aggressions and delinquency," Fivush writes in an account of her work scheduled to be published in Family Process, a journal focused on family therapy. Sharing stories about negative events helped kids develop perspective and resilience, Fivush adds.
Chicken/Egg Fivush notes that the research establishes only a correlation, not a cause-and-effect relationship, between family storytelling and healthy teens. Acknowledging that families doing other things to produce well-balanced teens may be naturally inclined to engage in constructive dinnertime chatter, Fivush says further research is underway.
-- Jennifer Huget