Saturday, February 17, 2007

Affluent - But At Risk: Teens Eating Dinner Alone

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Sister Edith, who blogs at Monastic Musings and teaches Sociology has an interesting post on the loneliness of affluent teens whose parents work long hours.

Affluent - But At Risk: Teens Eating Dinner Alone

Teens at risk is used most often for adolescents from inner-city neighborhoods, living at or below the poverty-line. When I hear the term, it evokes an image of a troubled home: perhaps just one parent, or an alcoholic or addicted parent, chaotic schedules, not enough money to meet basic needs, and few community resources to help out. In contrast, most people assume that the children of the upper-middle class face little or no financial stress, and live in environments rich in supportive programs and resources. When we hear of a troubled child in such a home, we think it must be due to something unique to that family, not their environment.

Those assumptions turn out to be false.



Suniya Luthar, a psychologist at Columbia University, decided to compare the well-being of hundreds of affluent kids - 6th grade through high school - with a similar group from low-income neighborhoods. She was surprised to find that the suburban teens were, in fact, worse off than their inner-city counterparts in several areas: higher anxiety, greater depression, and higher substance use - cigarettes, alcohol, marijuana, and other drugs. The teens in the wealthy suburbs turned out to be more at risk for mental-health and substance problems than those in the inner city.

I wasn't suprised to read that pressure to succeed - to pile up one achievement after another, participate in myriad activities, maintain high academic standing - and to be popular - were one of the major pathways to maladjustment found in the upper-middle-class suburbs. Over-scheduled and always on the go, these teens have little leisure time to be with friends, and felt a constant need to perform.

The other source of problems for these kids is surprising and sad: isolation from adults. Many of them spent hours every week in empty houses, often in neighborhoods where privacy is values, houses are far from each other, and little sense of community exists. Their parents' long hours at work - and their own activities - meant there was less family time in the rich homes, and more emotional isolation, than in the poorer ones.

One factor stood out. Teens who eat dinner with at least one parent on most nights had better adjustment and better performance at school -- even after many other factors were accounted for. Gathering around the table, sharing their lives and feelings along with the meal, is both an indicator and, perhaps, part of the dynamic of families that produce healthier and happier children. [....snip] Monastic Musings

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