British Columbia

Family dinner is a mental-health winner, psychologist says

Vancouver psychologist Dr. Patrick Myers says family dinners are an excellent tool to communicate with teenagers.

Sitting down together to eat is an excellent way to get teenagers talking

Vancouver psychologist Dr. Patrick Myers says it's more important than ever to communicate with your teenagers, and a family dinner is an excellent way to do that. (iStock/Getty Images)

Parents can find it notoriously difficult to get their teenage children to communicate with them.

But with the many stresses that Canadian teens face, communication at this time of life is more important than ever, a Vancouver psychologist says.

Dr. Patrick Myers says one simple way to get conversation started is to sit down together for dinner — and the earlier you start making this a habit, the better.

February, in particular, can be a stressful time for students facing midterms and heavy course loads.

It also happens to be Psychology Month in British Columbia — and Dr. Patrick Myers is using the opportunity to highlight the anxiety that young people face this time of year.

"They've got social pressures, peer pressures, they need to accomplish something and make lifelong decisions," said Myers.

"It's a pretty stressful time in general."

Bon appétit, bonne conversation

Myers is a registered therapist and often counsels families on how to communicate better, with the aim of improving mental health.

His No. 1 recommendation is to get into the habit of having family dinners.

"Really try to make a habit of that, so that we do get to connect with our teenagers and the adults and everyone around," said Myers.

A family dinner can go a long way toward addressing the questions Myers said all parents typically ask him.

He said many parents express concerns that their adolescent child doesn't communicate as much as they did when they were younger.

That's why it's so important to form the family dinner habit early in a child's life, he said. 

But Myers said there's an onus on parents to speak up on behalf their children, as well.

Myers added that one of the largest barriers for a teenager — and all Canadians, for that matter — when seeking help is the stigma surrounding mental health treatment. 

So it's important that parents, if they feel underequipped, don't feel ashamed of reaching out to a therapist for their child, he said.

Teenagers and pot

Myers said as marijuana legalization inches closer in Canada, parents are frequently asking him about their child smoking cannabis.

He said there are potential mental health challenges that can be triggered by sustained use and parents should have a frank discussion about the pros and cons of marijuana.

He doesn't advocate an abstinence-first approach, but he also doesn't suggest a parent should easily condone smoking it.

He said there is a balance between the two approaches, but it can be difficult to find.

"I would keep on warning your teenager. I would have the tendency to also try to redirect a teenager's attention toward other things like their social group or sports," said Myers during CBC's B.C. Almanac.

"It's difficult to do, though."

As part of Psychology Month, the B.C. Psychological Association is hosting a series of talks across the province that focus on various topics around depression, anxiety and mental health.

With files from B.C. Almanac

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