Do you struggle to get your gamer child to stop playing video games long enough to come to the table to have meals with you?
Does your gamer eat as fast as possible with you, only to immediately dash back to their video game and online friends?
Does your gamer insist on eating only in their bedroom?
Does your gamer eat in front of their PC, laptop, or gaming console?
Is your gamer eating mostly junk food?
Many of the parents I meet with for coaching, find it a challenge to get their child to eat nutritious meals with family, and remain in the room for any kind of meaningful conversation.
When asked, eighty percent of teenagers say they would rather have dinners with their family than with their peers or alone. And yet, problematic gamers spend an inordinate amount of time avoiding their parents and siblings, and choose their video games and online friends over family meal times. They often indulge in fast and convenient food, snacks, and high sugar, energy drinks so they can remain attached to their digital world.
When there’s a problematic gamer in the home, and they do actually show up for meals, parents want to use this time to discuss the problem – the addiction – and all of the stress and frustration that comes with it. As a result, dinner time becomes combative, judgmental, disapproving, and uncomfortable for everyone. And so the gamer will then do everything they can to avoid any future gatherings for food that includes communication with their parents. This creates a never ending cycle, and no healthy talking ever takes place.
It is essential for parents to create a safe place for meals where they agree not to talk about gaming addiction, a messy bedroom, chores left undone, showers that need to be taken, displeasure with school grades, lack of exercise and/or in-person friendships.
The more a child feels a sense of safety and the more they view dining together as pleasurable, the more likely they will come out of their rooms at other times to speak with mom and dad. But this trust and rules of engagement need to be built on first. Trusted time together will take time and patience, but eventually creating a space to discuss the eventual management of regulated gaming, in a calm and open dialogue is possible.
Outside of creating an environment of peace during meal time, parents also need to consider removing the gaming equipment from a child’s bedroom, whenever possible, and place these devices in a central location in the home where use can be supervised. This should prevent a child from eating alone in their bedroom.
Parents also need to insist on no eating in bedrooms or in front of digital screens, and that meals must be eaten together, as a family, with additional time kept for conversation. No digital devices should be allowed at the table. And there should be a consequence put in place when a child doesn’t follow rules.
Why is it that I believe that breaking bread together each day is important for children?
The research has been clear in showing that eating together is good for a child’s body, brain, and mental health.
It’s also good for the mental health and nutrition of adults.
According to Clinical Psychologist, Dr Anne Fishel, when families dine together and talk to one another, it increases a young child’s vocabulary, and then these children go on to learn reading sooner and with more ease.
Family meals are associated with a child’s higher grades and higher achievement scores.
When meals are prepared for a family, they tend to be smaller in portion size, they are packed with less salt, sugar, and fat than restaurant or take out foods.
When children grow up enjoying meals with their parents and siblings, when they eventually live on their own, they tend to grow up less obese and will continue to eat more healthily.
Children who eat with their families can learn better social skills and a healthy ability to navigate social situations.
Eating together teaches children good table manners.
More importantly, is that family meals are associated with lower rates of depression and anxiety, less susceptibility to high risk behaviours, substance and tobacco use, and eating disorders in children.
I urge you to encourage and require your child to not only join you for dinners, but to ask them to help with some preparation and clean up, and to have topics of healthy and non-combative conversation ready to keep them at the table for longer.
If you’re having trouble getting started and require help, you’ll find great resources with ideas for thirty minute or budget friendly meals, and resources for conversation, or perhaps games that are organized by age, on the website for The Family Dinner Project https://thefamilydinnerproject.org/
www.thenourishedchild.com – benefits of eating together as a family