The Family that Meditates Together

I grew up in the era when families ate their evening meals together (think the Donna Reed Show and Leave It To Beaver). Intuitively, it makes sense that it’s good for kids to share the family meal as an anchor in the day.

It turns out science backs up this notion. First of all, there are benefits for digestion and healthy eating itself. A study by Harvard Medical School has shown that children who eat with their parents eat less junk food, eat more fruits and vegetables, and ingest more of the nutrients needed for their developing nervous systems and to fend off heart disease and cancer later in life.

There are benefits for academic achievement. Eating family meals together at least five times a week is correlated with improved vocabularies and reading skills, improved achievement test scores, greater academic achievement, and higher grades. And then there are the lower rates of obesity and eating disorders in children and adolescents, and, surprisingly, the reduction in substance abuse, aggressive behavior, and depression.

According to CASAColumbia surveys, teens who participate in frequent family dinners are more likely to be emotionally content, work hard at school, and have positive peer relationships. A study by the Kraft Company found that American families who eat together are happier in many aspects of their lives than those who don’t. Children and teens who eat family meals together experience improved family communication, have stronger family ties and a greater sense of identity and belonging.

Now a new Canadian study, published in JAMA Pediatrics and reported in the Globe and Mail, indicates that eating family meals together can inure teens against the painfully detrimental effects of cyber-bullying. Adolescents who ate four or more dinners with their family weekly saw a four-fold increase in anxiety, depression, self-harm, suicidal thoughts and substance-use when exposed to cyber-bullying. Kids who ate zero family dinners had a seven-fold increase in these behaviors—and that’s placing them at nearly twice the risk.

An Epidemic of Bullying and Stress

I was surprised to learn that, according to the JAMA Pediatrics study, cyber-bullying is experienced by 20 percent of children, with girls more at risk because they tend to use social media at a younger age. Worse, cyber-bullying has a much bigger impact on children than schoolyard bullying because the public nature of the Internet magnifies the negative effect on the child’s self-esteem.

The (US) National Center for Educational Statistics estimates that one third of students ages 12-18 are bullied at school and online. High divorce rates among parents, violent entertainment, and drug abuse by youth—even the use of prescription anti-depressants—are suspected of contributing to the problem. However, these factors are now being recognized as symptoms of an underlying cause: an epidemic of stress in our society.

Meditating As a Buffer Against Bullying

In addition to sharing family meals, some families are planning time to meditate together on a daily basis as a buffer against cyber-bullying and other adolescent stressors. Research studies conducted at the University of Michigan have demonstrated that the TM technique not only reduces stress, it increases inner happiness and results in improved flexibility, social ability, and self-confidence.

Most importantly, when kids practice meditation and grow stronger in self-esteem, confidence and independent thinking, they begin to find approval from within rather than needing it from the outside. This makes them less vulnerable to peer pressure and less vulnerable to abusive behavior. In other words, practicing TM can help strengthen children that are potential victims of bullying by building self-esteem and resilience to stress.

A recent study conducted by the University of Connecticut found that at-risk adolescents in three high schools had reduced levels of stress, anxiety, hyperactivity, and emotional stress when practicing the TM technique over a period of four months, as compared with controls.

“I feel that meditating together at home has given my kids a special shield against the stresses of school and peer pressure,” says Carolyn, a mother of three. “It has also strengthened our bonds as a family. The tensions between siblings that can undermine a family outing don’t crop up as much anymore, or if they do, they dissolve more quickly. I can truly say, ‘The family that meditates together enjoys life more together.’”

About the Author

Linda Egenes writes about green and healthy living and is the author of six books, including The Ramayana: A New Retelling of Valmiki’s Ancient Epic—Complete and Comprehensive, co-authored with Kumuda Reddy, M.D.

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