Enticing your teenager to the table to want to eat dinner with the family can be very challenging.
If you’re finding mealtimes unrewarding with your teen or having glimpses of teen-like behaviour from your tween, my advice is to persist past the eye rolls, one-word answers and grunts because there is a long list of benefits associated to family mealtimes. Proven benefits such as increased self-esteem and resilience, as well as lower rates of teen pregnancy, substance abuse and eating disorders, just to name a few that are evidenced by teens that regularly connect over dinner with their families.
So, how do you encourage your teens to WANT to be at the dinner table and engage with you? Listed below are 10 ideas that will help to entice family mealtimes with teens:
- PLAN & PRIORITISE – Lock in a time in everyone’s calendar, this shows the importance of this event and creates visibility across the family.
- REMOVE TECHNOLOGY – As part of prioritizing family dinners, being present and engaged shows its importance to you. Set the example don’t bring your phone or device to dinner, this shows you are ready to listen, which is really important to teens.
- SEATING – Think about seating, I always find that if we face each other it makes connecting and feeling involved much easier. This will also enable you to note body language which can sometimes tell you more about your teens day than what they are saying. Don’t be afraid to mix the seating up if needed to promote discussion.
- COOK FAMILY FAVOURITES – Food is so powerful, cooking meals that are your teens favourites certainly help to encourage them out of their bedroom and to the table. Favourite meals can also evoke fond memories, providing a positive topic of conversation and a platform to share stories.
- ENCOURAGE INVOLVEMENT IN MEAL PREPARATION – I’ve found with my tweens that apart from developing important life skills, being involved in meal preparation has helped them to appreciate the work involved to prepare a meal for the family. At a teen level, many families find it beneficial to allocate their teen a night to cook for the family. You may find your teen is more engaged, wanting to talk about the meal and how it was prepared when they have had to manage the evening logistics for themselves.
- AVOID HOT TOPICS – Avoid discussing issues or reprimanding your teen at the dinner table, instead encourage open discussions and storytelling that is positive and light. This will provide a safe and secure place for your teen to talk with you, which may prove very beneficial in years to come. If this has not been the case in the past, have a chat prior to dinner, sharing new family ground rules for mealtimes. If hot topics do arise, which can sometimes happen, assuming it is not urgent, provide a time that it is appropriate to discuss the topic and move onto a lighter discussion.
- FIND ALTERNATE TIMES – Sometimes due to sport commitments, homework, work hours or simply just clashing schedules, getting the family together to eat dinner just isn’t possible. Don’t worry, all the benefits associated to family dinner times (and the lovely connectedness) can also be achieved at lunch or breakfast. So find times that enable your family to be present and engaged.
- MAKE IT FUN – Providing a fun atmosphere will certainly help drive conversation and engagement from your teen. Detailed below are simple activities that can be used:
- Drive interest through technology – If you can’t beat them, join them. Use technology in the form of music (so it doesn’t distract), teens are great at using technology to make dinner playlists. You could even guess the title and artist for each song or perhaps have themed music and meal nights.
- Play games – This of course is where Around The Table (Teen & Tween pack) comes into it’s own. Designed specifically for children 8-17 years old to be both fun and thought provoking. The question and game cards are perfect for creating engaging conversations and providing a stage for your teens to share their developing thoughts and opinions. Grab a pack for your family HERE.
- Invite friends – Opening up your home and dinner table to your teenagers friends is such a lovely way to create conversation and engagement. A regular “friends night” or the occasional dinner with friends makes for new stories and engaging conversations.
- Theme nights – Creating a theme night can be lots of fun, be it by matching your playlists with dinner (Mexican or Italian night) or dressing up or perhaps just creating a themed menu plan – theme nights can be as involved or as simple as you like.
- Switch it up – Changing where you eat dinner can make a big difference. I find when our family eat outside it is more casual and of course picnicking (indoors or out) is even more casual. Changing the location can make a significant difference to the overall vibe and corresponding expectations. You might find your teen has a preference and this may help to entice participation.
- COMPROMISE FOR HALF A MEAL – If you can’t entice your teen to join and engage with you for dinner, try dessert. I feel so very passionate about creating quality time where you can connect with your teen that in my opinion compromising with half a meal of good conversation is always better than no meal.
- TAKE-AWAY – I am by no means advocating eating take-away for dinner each night, but if take-away enticed my teenage child to sit down and share what they have been doing or their worries or just their latest thinking over dinner one night a week, then I would use take-away as a treat to entice my teen to connect over dinner. You can also always cook “take-away like” meals that are your childs favourites like Taco’s or Hamburgers that might just have the same outcome.
Let’s be real here, the eye rolls, the comments of it being naff and the grunts instead of answers are all sure to still come your way. However, the benefits of connecting over dinner will far outweigh the “right of passage” teen comments you will receive.
The key however is to persist and then gently keep persisting - first round of anything new they will usually have their guards up, second time round less so. If you currently do not have any meals together, aim for one night per week, or perhaps just dessert, then build to two etc etc. Creating a dramatic change to routine is sure to come with plenty of feedback, so take it slow. One night eating together as a family is one extra opportunity to connect with your teen, time well spent in my opinion.