How to Connect with Your Teens at the Dinner Table - Hope 103.2

How to Connect with Your Teens at the Dinner Table

Ditching the phone or demanding politeness is not the best way to better relationships, according to psychologist Kirstin Barchia.

By Ben McEachenWednesday 17 Jan 2024Hope MorningsParentingReading Time: 2 minutes

No, the smartphone is not to blame.

There are many other reasons why teenagers can disconnect from parents and caregivers, according to Kirstin Barchia from Northern Beaches Psychology.

During the developmental stage of adolescence, so much can be going on for teens.

From heightened emotions to social pressure and mental health challenges, our teens are not merely dealing with what’s happening on that screen in their hand.

Dinner time may be the most prominent daily reminder of the distance within our families.

“Of course, we want our teenagers to talk to us more, have a good connection with us. Tell us about their day,” Kirstin told Hope Mornings about the ideal dinner at home.

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Accept and offer comfort

Instead of aiming for an impossibly perfect family dinner though, Kirstin suggested parents and caregivers should better accept the ways teens do express their emotions or thoughts.

“Tune in” to the eye rolls, grunts or moodiness. Seeking to understand can produce “real connection”.

“As the more mature, older ones, we need to dig in and develop our capacity for dealing with some of those difficult behaviours and where they are coming from.”

An evening meal of smiles, sharing and support is unlikely.

But trying to enforce strict rules at the table can worsen the situation, according to Kirstin.

“One of the biggest mistakes that we as parents make is we try to discipline behaviour that actually needs to be comforted.

“This generation needs comfort.

“We can’t comfort them if we keep shutting their feelings down by saying ‘Stop rolling your eyes or using that tone of voice.'”

Expectations and understanding

Such talk of tuning in to your teen can sound like letting them do or say whatever they want.

Kirstin said parents and caregivers should hold expectations for dinner time – and other times of the day.

How they seek to nurture and guide their teen is the key factor.

“It is reasonable for parents to expect that everyone at the dinner table would speak politely to each other and listen to each other, but it’s the mechanism by which we get there.”

“When we understand the cause of where a behaviour is coming from, that can help us to shift that behaviour.”

Such interaction around the table can take a lot of effort.

From all concerned.

For a long time.

Still, sticking with family dinners should be prioritised, even as the going is arduous, slow and frustrating.

Kirstin told Hope Mornings that research indicates families who eat dinner together produce more resilient teens.

“The family meal is one thing to really hold on to.”

Listen to the full conversation in the listener above.

Feature image by: Canva Pro