We all know that the afterschool hours and unsupervised summer days can be dangerous times for tweens and teens. Drug and alcohol use, sexual activity and other "troublesome" activities have all been shown to increase in the hours when kids are alone in an empty house. I was a fairly well-behaved kid, but the afterschool hours held another kind of danger for me when I was a middle-schooler: Overeating.
Those empty hours when my parents were at work and my high school-aged brothers were off at sports practices were the time when I first learned to see food as a source of comfort. If I had a bad day at school, I'd grab a snack -- or two. Bored? A bowl of ice cream would occupy my time. Lonely? A couple of cookies might make me feel better.
That's why new information just out from researchers with the University of Minnesota Project Eating Among Teens had me nodding my head. Among other things, the collected data indicates that kids crave connection and that feeling a lack of it has a strong influence on the development of eating disorders. "Lack of family connectedness, including not eating family meals together, was found to increase the risk of disordered eating behaviors in both young males and females," according to a release from the University of Minnesota.
There are other factors at play, of course, but as a parent, the link to family connectedness is real food for thought. Like so many others, we're a busy family with kids who are involved in multiple sports and activities. It's all too easy to separate and fly off in different directions -- and not take the time to come together as a family for a meal and a re-cap of the day.
With just a few more weeks until the start of school, I'm already thinking about how we can strengthen our connectedness as a family once the hustle and bustle of fall begins. Eating meals together is a priority, of course (if dinner together isn't possible, breakfast will work!), but so is making time for conversation. Tweens and teens can be notoriously slippery when it comes to conversing -- if you're having trouble talking to yours, check out my seven tips for talking to your daughter.