Family Dinners: Magical or Mythical?

Kara Powell | Sep 4, 2014

Photo by Sam Simon.

All sorts of blog posts and books tout the benefits of family dinners. Are regular family dinners part of a magical formula that can bring harmony and happiness to your home?

The best answer from research is: sort of.

Kids who have dinner with their families seem to make better choices and avoid disorders and high-risk behaviors including depression, delinquency, and drug and alcohol use. But when researchers took into account other differences between families who have dinner together and those who don’t (such as differences in overall relationship quality, parental monitoring, and shared activities), the effects of family dinners diminished drastically.

In other words, the parents who value family dinners seem also to build healthy and caring bonds with their kids in a host of other ways. (To read more, see: Kelly Musick and Ann Meier, “Assessing Causality and Persistence in Associations Between Family Dinners and Adolescent Well-Being,” Journal of Marriage and Family 74 (June 2012): 476–93.)

Family dinner conversations are a bright light in these parents’ relationships with their children, but they are only one star in a constellation of connections that already shines brightly. So while dinner is a natural opportunity for families to communicate, it’s not the secret sauce of Sticky Faith families. The ongoing involvement and conversation between parents and kids is what matters most, whether or not it happens over a tablecloth.

How have family dinners helped your family grow closer to each other? What other times of the day are great opportunities for communication and connection?

To learn more about the research around family dinners, read Chapter Ten: “Home Sticky Home: Making Your House a Hub of Faith” in our Sticky Faith Guide for Your Family.

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Kara Powell

Dr. Kara Powell is the Executive Director of the Fuller Youth Institute (FYI), a faculty member at Fuller Theological Seminary, and Fuller's Chief of Leadership Formation. Named by Christianity Today as one of “50 Women You Should Know,” Kara serves as a Youth and Family Strategist for Orange, and also speaks regularly at parenting and leadership conferences. Kara is the author or coauthor of a number of books, including Growing Young, Growing With, The Sticky Faith Guide for Your Family, Sticky Faith Curriculum, Can I Ask That?, Deep Justice Journeys, Deep Justice in a Broken World, Deep Ministry in a Shallow World, and the Good Sex Youth Ministry Curriculum. Kara lives with her husband Dave and their three children, Nathan, Krista, and Jessica, in Southern California.


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