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Gathering around the family dinner table en masse more often may help keep adolescents away from drugs and alcohol, according to “The Importance of Family Dinners V,” a report by The National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse (CASA) at Columbia University. The report found that compared with teens who have frequent family dinners (five or more weekly), those who have infrequent family dinners (fewer than three weekly) are twice as likely to use tobacco or marijuana, more than one and a half times likelier to use alcohol, and twice as likely to expect to try drugs in the future.
Additionally, compared with teens who have five to seven family dinners weekly, those who have fewer family dinners weekly are twice as likely to have friends who use marijuana and Ecstasy; more than one and a half times likelier to have friends who drink, abuse prescription drugs and use meth; and almost one and a half times likelier to have friends who use illegal drugs such cocaine, acid and heroin.
Apparently, the combination of infrequent family dinners and distractions at the table is particularly detrimental: according to the report, compared with teens who have frequent family dinners without distractions such as talking or texting on a cell phone, or using a Blackberry, laptop or Game Boy, those who have infrequent family dinners with distractions are three times likelier to use marijuana and tobacco, and two and a half times likelier to use alcohol.
Additional findings included the following:
--Among 12- and 13-year olds, those who have infrequent family dinners are six times likelier to use marijuana, four times likelier to use tobacco and three times likelier to use alcohol than those who have frequent family dinners
--Teens who never attend religious services are twice as likely to try marijuana and alcohol as those who attend religious services at least weekly
“The magic of the family dinner comes not from the food on the plate, but from who’s at the table and what’s happening there,” noted Elizabeth Planet, VP and director of special projects at New York-based CASA, the only national organization that unites all of the professional disciplines needed to study and combat all types of substance abuse affecting all strata of society. “The emotional and social benefits that come from family dinners are priceless. We know that teens who have frequent family dinners are likelier to get A’s and B’s in school and have excellent relationships with their parents. Having dinner as a family is one of the easiest ways to create routine opportunities for parental engagement and communication, two keys to raising drug-free children.”
This year, 59 percent of teens told CASA in an August 2009 survey they eat dinner with their families at least five times a week, the same proportion the organizatiob has observed over the past several years. Consistent with these findings, 62 percent of parents said they have frequent family dinners.
“The bad news in this year’s survey is that work and other activities keep many families from getting to the table for frequent family dinners. But the good news is that most of these teens and parents would be willing to give up a weeknight activity to have dinner with their family,” said Joseph A. Califano Jr., CASA’s founder and chairman and former U.S. Secretary of Health, Education, and Welfare. “Over the past decade and a half of surveying thousands of American teens and their parents, we’ve learned that the more often children have dinner with their parents, the less likely they are to smoke, drink or use drugs.”
Family Day—A Day to Eat Dinner with Your Children was introduced by CASA in 2001. Observed on the fourth Monday in September (the 28th this year), the nationwide event promotes parental engagement as a simple and effective way to lower children’s risk of smoking, drinking and using illegal drugs.