Children\'s social skills are improved by sharing family meals
Boys and girls are growing up lacking the ability to make conversation with adults, share ideas and use good manners because of a drop in old-fashioned dining arrangements, it is claimed
Richard Harman, chairman of the Boarding Schools Association, said a decline in family dinners had also coincided with increased access to high-fat convenience food.
The comments come just days after research revealed that children from families who regularly gather around the dinner table tend to eat more fruit and vegetables than those who shun traditional meals.
Mr Harman, the headmaster of Uppingham School in Rutland, said many boarding schools now insisted on proper dining facilities, including seating plans and meals shared between teachers and pupils three times a day, to “build a sense of togetherness”.
Speaking before the association’s annual heads’ conference on Tuesday, he said: “As a society, we have lost the beneficial effects of sharing a meal around the table.
“The fact is that eating together has, since the earliest times, been the most formative way of building a sense of togetherness and facilitating conversation across the generations. But in the United States and increasingly over here, a lot of families don’t even have a dining table.
“A sense of sharing, reaching out to other people and the ability to form and sustain relationships is just not valued as much as it was.”
Last week, researchers at Rutgers, the State University of New Jersey, found that children were healthier and less likely to be overweight in households where families eat together around the dining table.
But it is believed that rising numbers of parents and children shun the traditional model in favour of TV meals on the sofa.
Separate research has concluded that around one-in-10 adults never eat a meal with their children and another 10 per cent only share dinners once a week.
Mr Harman said Uppingham insisted on “family-style dining arrangements where adults and children share meals three times a day around the table”.
“The decline of family meals has led to the erosion of social skills among youngsters, despite the fact that it is increasingly becoming clear for the future that an ability to get on with people and share ideas will be just as vital in the workplace as the ability to master English and maths,” he said.
In a speech to the conference on Tuesday, he will say that the “route to human happiness, success and fulfilment is through developing social skills”.
“There has never been a greater need for the kind of holistic education our schools offer,” he says.
Mr Harman also claims that an “over-emphasis on material success” in schools, the home and in popular culture is damaging children’s self-esteem.
“We have a generation of youngsters who suffer from self-esteem that is either too low or unjustifiably high,” he says.
“The over-emphasis on material success and, in education, on valuing attainment only, with too little attention paid to establishing a sense of belonging, has meant that some fundamental values have been inverted.
\"Essentially, our education system and our culture have got things upside down. We\'ve told our children that they will reach a sense of belonging by means of achieving material success, instead of the other way round.”
In further comments, he will attack the Government’s refusal to impose tough controls over internet pornography, adding: “It’s just wrong to put this into the ‘too difficult’ tray and it doesn’t help the work we do in schools or with families.”