Parenting expert Dr. Michele Borba is helping to launch Dixie’s upcoming Dark for Dinner movement, which encourages families to be more present during dinner by challenging them to turn off cell phones, televisions, computers and other electronics and “go dark” for meals together. The Dark for Dinner movement will officially begin on Sunday, June 14.
Studies have shown that engaging in sit-down family meals can provide children with better nutritional intake and prevents high-risk behavior, such as substance use, antisocial behaviors, violence and school problems.
I am thrilled to interview Dr. Borba and get her take on the family meal and other measures parents should consider to prevent high-risk behavior such as substance use.
“There’s no guarantee but the research does say that families when are connected on a regular basis the risk factors go down. Dinner hour should be relaxed and fun. Which relates to distractions — screen time — diminishes the enjoyment of dinner.”
When I confessed that on certain occasions like when we are waiting at a restaurant for a meal, I can look up and see all five of us on screens!
Dr. Borba replies, “Adults are plugging in … and it’s trickling down to the kids. In a survey of 1500 people, with 500 kids in the 13-16 age range, they said the adults were the ones online.”
The idea, she says, is to stay in the present. Make time to connect with your family a priority and let the family dinner be fun time to connect and relax together.
The Dixie Dark for Dinner is trying to encourage that by challenging parents to have a family dinner every Sunday for 6 weeks so that it becomes a habit. Can’t do dinner because the kids get home late? Dr. Borba suggests trying a family breakfast instead.
While I had Dr. Borba on the phone, I wanted to tap her for advice in other areas. I asked her what she thought about the movie Race to Nowhere? and what advice she would give to parents with overscheduled kids.
She says to ask these questions:
- Is my kid overscheduled?
- Do we have any time to connect as a family?
- Is there balance in the kinds of activities your kid is doing?
- Is there social interaction time?
An overscheduled kid can result in decreasing their executive function which hinders more than helps. Push the pause button now and then.
I had talked to other pediatricians and one great piece of advice was: Let the child be the one in charge of making sure things on the schedule happen. They are the ones making sure they are ready, putting their events on the calendar and telling the driver when it’s time to go.
Dr. Borba and I had bonded online a few years ago over our belief in the importance of recess and outdoor free play time for young kids at school.
I asked her: What do you think of recess taken away as a punishment? Do you think recess is being overlooked and disregarded because of the emphasis on standardized test scores?
She replies, “Taking away recess backfires and derails the rest of the day. There’s no way to get the day back. That kid needs time to decompress. Instead of taking away recess as punishment, try a different consequences like service learning helping kindergartenerss, extra writing resarch project for 10 minutes on importance of getting good grades, or making a poster on 5 reasons why children should not bully and be kind-hearted.”
She also things recess time is sacrificed for standardized test scores, “Yes, that’s true. 40% of schools are cutting recess, Dr. Michele Borba found, because schools want to find more time for test prep.”
My final question was on cyberbulling as I was fortunate to have Dr. Borba’s advice on web safety on my blog. Do you think cyberbullying is on the upswing or downswing?
Dr. Borba on Bullying: Bullying is a relationship problem whether it’s bullying or cyberbullying. Help children learn to get along with clear expectations of behavior that can be laid out in a classroom setting. The key to bullying is figuring out why child is resorting to that behavior. Is it lack of Social skills? Very often the bully is on the 2nd rung of popularity ladder and uses bullying behavior to social climb.
I really value Dr. Borba’s advice and if you want more of her insights, check out her parenting books. I’m also giving away a signed book, The Big Book of Parenting Solutions.
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The findings of the present study suggest that the frequency of family dinner is an external developmental asset or protective factor that may curtail high-risk behaviors among youth. Creative and realistic strategies for enhancing and supporting family meals, given the context within which different families live, should be explored to promote healthy adolescent development. Family rituals such as regular mealtimes may ease the stress of daily living in the fast-paced families of today’s society.
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