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Photo from Rachel Lynette French, thanks to Unsplash

You may not have thought about this before, but teens experience what public health folks call, “optional morbidity,” meaning that mostly what kills teens is something they selected to do (as opposed to cancer or heart disease, etc). Life-threatening, risky, stupid things they select to do are almost endless in number: drive too fast, take drugs, jump off of things, drink too much…and on and on. Public health folks, like parents of teens, want kids to survive adolescence. They wondered,

Are there any things which kids who thrive and flourish and survive until adulthood DO? Are there any traits those “healthy” kids share in common? If so, could we promote those so all kids could survive and thrive?

And so The National Survey of Adolescent Health began. Following participants for between 10-12 years, focusing on 90,000 teen-subjects, asking all kinds of questions from kids, parents, even teachers. They surveyed everything from language spoken at home, to hours spent at part-time job, to when was the last time you took a weapon to school, to how often do you eat greens. The probe was meant to answer the question: how can we help kids thrive through teen years and into a healthy young adulthood?

Isn’t that something all parents would like to know for their own tween or teen?

The study yielded a treasure trove of information. It took literally years to process and understand it all…much less to find ways to make use of it. But after sorting all that data, after raking over the connections and implications, at the heart of the findings only ONE factor connected the kids who did well, survived, reached the far side of adolescence, emerging as healthy young adults:

The number of times a week that kids had dinner with their family.

It’s not so important what they eat at dinner. It’s not so important how well they do in school. It’s not so important how much money the family has. It’s not so important whether they make Select Soccer or not. It’s not so important what college they attend. It isn’t even so important where or if they attend church. In other words, we could pretty much skip all that as long as we DON’T SKIP DINNER.

Now, I don’t know about you, but dinner at my house on a typical school night is not such a hot affair. It probably includes some pretty healthy food…but also some not-so-great options. There aren’t likely to be lots of fancy table decorations or Julia Childs’ culinary touches. On a usual night, dinner is probably about 17 minutes long…on a good night, maybe 22 minutes. So it leaves one wondering : What is SO important that it an be life-changing, life-protecting that occurs in those regular, 17-minute installments?

For the next few weeks in both this blog and at my IG site (@kathleenfischerparenting), that is exactly the question we’ll be exploring. Join me here; join me there…but whatever you do, don’t skip dinner with your kids! P.S. It doesn’t matter what you serve…a bowl of Cheerios will do as long as you’re there!