Experts say that one of the most important things a family can do is eat dinner together. According to studies cited at Time.com, the more often families eat together, the less likely kids are to smoke, drink, do drugs, get depressed, develop eating disorders and consider suicide, and the more likely they are to do well in school, delay having sex, eat their vegetables, learn big words and know which fork to use.
But exactly what is it about the family meal that is so important?
It is more than swapping stories and learning how to pass the potatoes politely. A gathering around the table offers the one thing kids just might crave more than anything else: your undivided attention. And you can give this gift by simply listening.
A recent trip to the zoo offered a glimpse into just how bad we adults have become at paying attention to our children. Sure, children skipped happily enough from cage to cage, pointing out the antics of the lions, tigers, and bears. But what was amazingly clear as kids tugged at the sleeves of their parents, was how poor their parents were at listening. Most parents, in fact, were more intent at listening to whoever was at the other end of their cell phone (if they were not in the midst of sending them a text message). Some kids even appeared painfully aware of their ranking in the world of parental importance, as they waited patiently for Mom or Dad to put the phone away.
And it is easy to get wrapped up in communication. But more often than not, it is not communication with our children.
Next time your child is talking to you, end the phone call, turn off the television, or shut off the radio, and really listen to what they are telling you. Make eye contact. Ask questions. Nod your approval. At dinner tonight, make it a point to give your child your undivided attention. After all, it really is the best gift you can give. It says: you are important to me.