Parents have heard it for years: Family dinners help kids avoid risky behaviors and may even help them in school.
But new research shows that the more frequent these dinners, the better the adolescents fare emotionally, says new research published this week in the Journal of Adolescent Health.
"The effect doesn't plateau after three or four dinners a week," says co-author Frank Elgar, an associate professor of psychiatry at McGill University in Montréal. "The more dinners a week the better."
With each additional dinner, researchers found fewer emotional and behavioral problems, greater emotional well-being, more trusting and helpful behaviors toward others and higher life satisfaction, regardless of gender, age or family economics. The study was based on a nationally representative sample of 26,069 Canadian adolescents ages 11 to 15 in 2010.
While researchers see a correlation, they can't say family dinners caused the benefits. "We don't know if family dinners contribute to mental health, or if mental health and other behavioral problems cause some teenagers to avoid the family dinner," Elgar says.