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As summer gets underway, family lifestyles change. Regular meals planned between school and nightly activities give way to fluid schedules driven by summer social happenings. Kids busy themselves with friends, camps and jobs, which can make finding family time a challenge. It becomes all too easy, in fact, to go for days or even a full week without doing something as fundamental as dining together as a family.

Don’t let that happen to you.

Having dinner as a family doesn’t so much concern food as shared space and engaging discussions. Also, most important, such time together leads to benefits that extend well beyond a simple meal. Research shows that families who regularly dine together have kids less likely to use drugs and alcohol and more likely to make healthy, positive life choices.

Mandatory meals become especially important during summer, when kids enjoy both fewer responsibilities and ample opportunities to make impulsive, poor decisions. Even when they’re not around, though, parents can influence their children by building positive relationships through shared activities. Teens really do want to please their mothers and fathers, parents, so your voice always figuratively occupies their heads when kids feel connected to their families.

In addition to family-only culinary gatherings, take advantage of summer by staging spontaneous (or planned) meals with your children and their friends. Casual gatherings generate casual conversation, allowing parents to learn more about their children’s friends – what they like to do and so forth.

Getting things started, however, can prove challenging. Some teenagers, especially younger ones, often act shy around adults. To make the most of these impromptu gatherings, parents, keep talk light and get teens engaged. Also, to avoid uncomfortable silences, ask specific questions about topics you know most teens enjoy, like sports, movies or favorite school subjects.

Last, keep things moving with an accepting attitude and warm demeanor. When parents act genuinely curious, laughter flows. Avoid criticizing comments, don’t spend too much time hanging around, and, most important, never embarrass your kids in front of their friends.

Parents should make an effort to know their children’s friends. In addition to gaining a better understanding of what’s important to your teen, mealtimes together provide insights into their social world. So, folks, light that grill and get the kids talking – and enjoy the summer!

Prior to going into private practice as a psychotherapist and learning-disabilities specialist, Russell Hyken, Ph.D., Ed.S., M.A., LPC, NCC, worked for more than 15 years as an English teacher, school counselor and school administrator. Visit him online at ed-psy.com.

Prior to going into private practice as a psychotherapist and learning-disabilities specialist, Russell Hyken, Ph.D., Ed.S., M.A., LPC, NCC, worked for more than 15 years as an English teacher, school counselor and school administrator.

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