The best predictor of success is how many meals kids share with adults. That's what sociologist Sherry Turkle says in her new book, Reclaiming Conversations.
Turkle talks about the Goldilocks effect, where teens try to keep things not too hot and not too cold with friends, teachers, and parents. There are a lot of comfortable things that pull at students. Eventually, many follow Goldilock's example, pulling away from the table to crash in solitude.
Statistics show that success in a number of key areas is directly linked to how many meals students share with their family. Here are 3 simple tips to build a concept of dinner to change your student's life.
Close the Door and Open Conversations
Telemarketers hate calling the Stender's house. Growing up, my brothers and I sat around a 1950's table with chipped formica waiting for mom to finish dinner and dad to find his way to the table. Sitting to pray, eyes closed and hands folded, we started reciting a rote dinner prayer, and silence washed over our home. Then, the phone would ring. It usually went unanswered. Sometimes, in a huff, my dad would bolt from the table and grab the phone from the receiver and blurt-out, "It's 5:30pm. That's dinnertime. Call later." Dinnertime is sacred in my home because it was sacred for my parents.
Statistically, dinner with adults protects students from delinquency and drug addiction. Researchers say they can pick out successful students simply by watching where they eat at night. The reason is that the dinner table involves conversation. Engaging conversation builds accountability and causes new thinking patterns. To allow this to happen, families need to close the doors of distraction and open up in conversation.
Never Preach What You Can Probe
There are three tables in the cafeteria where adults gather during lunch. Often, students speckle the outside of these tables, leaning in to conversations ranging from politics to athletics. This is a unique place on campus. It's where teachers step off the platform and listen.
To the teachers, the students know what they think. Students often know what we think about things before we do. They study how we treat others. They see us in the quiet times and in the boisterous moments of life. They know what we think. Sometimes we feel that they don't because we haven't expressed our thoughts with passionate words, but they know. However, rarely do adults understand what students think.
Mealtime should be a place where adults step off the soap box and fill their face after asking questions. Students explaining their thoughts, especially to adults, work out passions in a powerful way. When they have to logically explain their view of love, marriage, politics, the poor, and other important issues, parents should bring the conversation to rest on Scripture. A simple question like, "where do you think the Bible explains this," can really drive students to think deeply.
Sometimes the best posture is a listening posture. It opens opportunities for us to talk less and question more. Families could benefit from less adult preaching and more student sharing.
Our life is crazy busy. Nancy and I are ships in the night almost every day of the week. Late meetings, mentor time in the dorms, monitoring dorm study hall, school trips, all of these activities pull us away from the dinner table. Life happens, and it is impossible for us to have a routine for dinner. So, we've fought hard to render some rituals.
Some people, reading statistics on mealtimes and student success, choose to render other rituals. They seek to create a weekly coffee outing or make plans to walk weekly as a family. While these are good ideas, they don't replace the dinner table.
Dinner is something that naturally creates conversation. If we want the impact of dinner conversations, we need to render the rituals that build those formative times.
These ideas seem great in a blog, but practice is much more difficult. I've worked to build a simple 3-minute habit for these tips at dinner. A great 30 minute meal is unrealistic with my family. A 3-7 minute win in any one of these areas is a huge step to setting kids on a path that, according to statistics, will change their life.