table talk

How many times a week do you sit together as a family for dinner?

We all know that family dinners are one of the most beneficial ways to maintain an open and communicative relationship with our children. Right? Did you also know that they have a major impact on the choices your kids make outside of your home.

According to a survey by Columbia University, teenagers who have a family dinner five times or more a week are 42 percent less likely to drink, 59 percent less likely to smoke cigarettes and 66 percent less likely to try marijuana. The survey also found teens were 40 percent more likely to get A’s and B’s. (If only it would increase their desire to do homework.)

Forcing the kids to the table is great, but eating in silence or in front of the television defeats the purpose. You know, because talking is the actual point. But? Getting your kids to talk can be harder than flying an airplane with one wing, a broken engine and no gas. 

There are ways to get them to do it, but it takes a little creativity and some trickery. “Yes” or “no” questions will get you “yes” or “no” answers. 

You: “Did anything interesting happen at school today?”

Them: “No.”

Awesome. Just like that the conversation is over. 

Instead, you might offer up a humliating story about yourself in high school as I did this weekend. Because what says I love you more than adding ammunition to the, “my mom’s an idiot fire,” for the sole purpose of a little conversation?

“Have I ever told you about the time when I was in high school and I gave myself a spray tan?” I asked.

They look up slightly interested but I can see the Facebook logos blazing across their retinas as they shovel the food in at the speed of light. 

“After I read the directions,” I continue with high hopes, “I decided that if one coat was good then three coats must be amazing.”

And just like that I have now engaged them in their favorite pastime. Thinking I am a moron. 

“Obviously, I turned bright orange,” I said.

Guttural laughter. (Just you wait boys, it gets better.)

“The next day was Friday which meant game day so I couldn’t cover up because I had to wear my cheerleading uniform.” (At which time they start laughing even harder because seriously?  They cannot even fathom the idea that I was once a cheerleader and the image of me being an orange cheerleader is just too good.)

“I begged my dad not to make me go to school, but he had no part of it because as you know, parents can be jackasses sometimes.”

They take a brief laughter break to nod their heads in agreement.

“I sat through first period horrified in my stark white cheerleading uniform with my bright orange skin shining like a jack-o-lantern lit with a 100 watt bulb. I kept my head down and willed my glowing body to become invisible.” 

Now they are hysterical. They aren’t heartless. I am telling this in a funny way, not embarrassing. That is the key here.

“Wait,” I say, “It gets better. I walked into second period and apparently someone from first period got there before me because in giant letters on the chalkboard, “ATTACK OF THE ORANGE CHEERLEADER.”

Rolling across the floor holding their stomachs laughing. 

This led to questions about how long it took to fade and laughter filled comments by all of us about me glowing in the dark that night while cheering and how the football stadium lights weren’t even necessary. Voila. We are having a conversation. 

We talked about the fact that, while it was hysterical now for us over dinner, it was truly humiliating for me back in the day and that the person who wrote that on the board was a completely insensitive assjacket. That led to how we all have embarrassing moments and how best to handle them. Self deprication. Owning it instead of being humiliated. Standing up for themselves if they are wronged, etc.

So begins my new column titled, “Table Talk.” Each week tune in and I will either give you prompts for the week to begin discussions at dinner with your kids or I will offer you five fun questions for the week to get the conversation started. 

This week: You and your significant other (if you don’t have one, you come up with two stories) tell a story about yourself from high school (or whatever age your kids currently are) that will leave the kids laughing. It’s nice to remind them that you too were once their age. Suddenly, even for a brief moment in time, you are relatable. 

Update: My dad’s comment below caused me to spit coffee all over my keyboard. True. Story. Don’t miss it.