The Patriot In-Depth: finding time for family
Over the years, high school students’ schedules have increasingly become more hectic. From school, work, after school activities, and homework, students rarely have the time to spend with their families. The Patriot discovers the benefits of family time and, in particular, family dinners.
January 28, 2015
Junior Kristen Flanigan walks around her kitchen table, getting ready for dinner with her family while she tells them about her day. The Flanigan family, unlike some, continues to eat dinner together almost every night.
“My family used to eat together every night when my sister wasn’t at college, but my dad thinks it’s still really important to eat as a family, so we continue to make the effort,” Flanigan said.
Even after a long day of work, Flanigan’s mother prepares meals to ensure they spend family time together and catch up on their daily lives.
“I really appreciate that my parents continue to work to have dinner together considering I am busy with school, homework, SAT tutoring, track, and field hockey,” Flanigan said.
Flanigan’s family also takes time out of their busy schedules to go to Massachusetts for family vacations about three times a year. “We normally visit my family that lives up there once every break so in the summer, winter, and spring,” Flanigan said.
The benefits of spending time with family can be considerable, but between the numerous other responsibilities that high school students have to balance, spending time with family can often become just another stress point.
Family meals correlate with healthier eating habits
Finding time between everyone in your family’s different schedules can be difficult, but doing something as simple as eating dinner together can have its benefits, even if it’s just for 30 minutes.
According to a report by Cornell University College of Human Ecology, “most studies have found that medium and high levels (i.e., 3 or more days per week) of frequent family meals yield the most positive benefits for children.”
For example, shared meal time can lead children to be 35 percent less likely to engage in disorderly eating, 24 more likely to eat healthier foods, and 12 percent less likely to be overweight, according to the same report.
In addition, sharing meal time can beneficially affect a student’s decision-making skills.
According to familyfacts.org, a program that provides data on family practice and analysis of its role in maintaining civil society in America, “compared with teens who frequently had dinner five times or more per week with their families, those who had dinner with their families only two nights per week or less were twice as likely to be involved in substance abuse.”
Eating a family dinner can also lead to stronger health habits and better nutritional eating.
“Children who eat with their families are less likely to snack on unhealthy foods and more likely to eat healthy foods such as fruits, vegetables and whole grains. Studies have shown that when family meals are prioritized, structured, and positive in atmosphere, fewer weight control problems and disordered eating patterns were observed,” according to The Child Study Center.
One of the most important factors in family quality time is sticking to a routine. According to the Cornell University College of Human Ecology report, the routine of family meals can generate feelings of closeness and comfort. Even when things get hectic, a family meal can give a child stability.
Quality, however, is just as important as quantity. The same report encourages families to stray away from possible distractions, such as TV or electronics. Researchers note that family meals give parents and children a unique opportunity to connect with each other and share information.
Students review the benefits of family time
In high school, students spend less time with their families, mainly because they’re involved in more extracurricular activities, hours of homework and studying, and social activities than ever before.
In a survey sent out by The Patriot on Jan. 12 via surveymonkey, 30 percent of students spend between one to two hours a day with their families.
“As a school, we’d like to encourage that there be more [family time] rather than less,” President Richard O’Hara said. Last year, JC had two ‘Family Nights’ where a ban on sport practices and other activities was meant to encourage an evening spent together as a family.
Spending time with your family can lead to a wide range of emotions depending on the person. Some find it relaxing and enjoyable while others find it stressful and frustrating. “Too much of anything isn’t good,” one respondent to the survey said.
For many, family time is a good thing. The survey showed that 69 percent of students feel happy and relaxed after spending time with their families.
“I think that family time is important because one day they may not be there for you. I think that people should cherish the time that they have with their family before it’s gone,” another respondent said.
However, 30 percent of students said that they feel stressed or frustrated after spending time with their families. “It really depends on the situation,” one respondent said, “but trying to talk with my parents will sometimes get me annoyed.”
Even for those who enjoy spending time with their family, it may not be high on their priority list. 53 percent of students spend time with their families only when they finish with their other activities.
“Family time is important to me, but it is significantly different on a weekend compared to a school day,” a respondent said. “After school I am generally tired and stressed, so I don’t want to spend time with my energetic younger siblings. When I’m in the mood, however, nothing makes me happier.”
Flanigan agrees that she generally spends time with her family once her other activities are finished.
“I want to spend time with my family, [but] it is just difficult when school and other activities overwhelm my life,” she said.
Stress levels vary from student to student, but the necessity of spending time with their family does not. The benefits of fitting in even a simple family meal can be invaluable, giving a sense of stability to an often hectic schedule.
“Bottom line message is we have to all step back routinely and recharge and refresh,” O’Hara said. “If that can be done in family context, then all the better.”
Balancing a stable and healthy lifestyle depends on more than just getting homework done. Family life is a significant and beneficial ritual that should be incorporated into all student schedules.
Sydney Kirwan and Billy Jump are In-Depth Editors for The Patriot and jcpatriot.com