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I hate Swedish meatballs.

Forgive me, IKEA, because I’ve heard yours are amazing. But the version my sister prepared when we were growing up was inedible. (My mother, however, was thrilled when sis tackled recipes from Betty Crocker’s Cookbook for Boys and Girls.)

At the dinner table my parents praised her, while I choked down enough to pass muster. The menu may have been lacking, but the conversation was good. Back then, my parents were on to something.

A youth mental-health crisis that was building for a decade before the pandemic, has worsened over the past two years. In 2021, 44 percent of high school students said they felt persistently sad or hopeless in the past year, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. At the same time, mounting scientific research shows that gathering for regular meals and conversation might be one way to build children’s emotional resilience. (Having TV on in the background has been found to reduce the quality of children’s meals.)

I know it’s hard to deal with conflicting schedules of working parents and kids. But avoiding digital distractions and eating family dinners together is worth the effort.

Just don’t serve Swedish meatballs…

Renee Garrison is the award-winning authoof two Young Adult books, The Anchor Clankers,” and “Anchored Together.” She is Past President of the Florida Authors and Publishers Association.