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Parent Power: Family Meals Make a Difference

August 30, 2013  |  Falmouth Enterprise

By Dr. Michael Bihari

Now that summer is over and kids are returning to school and a regular routine, this is a good time to get in the habit of having regular family meals. Research studies have documented that teens who take part in regular meals with their family are less likely to drink alcohol, use marijuana, or smoke cigarettes.

A regular family meal can be a relaxing ritual for teens and parents. It provides a time to socialize, discuss the day's events, and tune in to each other’s difficulties and triumphs. The family meal also offers parents the chance to offer nutritious foods and send the right messages about healthy eating. 

Any time you and your family eat together counts as a family meal, whether it is home-cooked food, a takeout meal, or sitting together in a restaurant. Use each opportunity to reconnect, to be a role model for making healthy decisions, and most of all, to enjoy the company of loved ones. 

Family dinner is also an ideal time to strengthen the quality of family relationships. Teens who have frequent family dinners are more likely to have excellent relationships with their parents and more likely to say their parents know a lot about what’s really going on in their lives. As the quality of teens’ relationships with their parents decline, their likelihood of using marijuana, alcohol and tobacco rises.

Research Studies Support Family Meals

According to The Importance of Family Meals, a white paper released by Columbia University in 2012:

  • A child who gets through age 21 without smoking, using illegal drugs or abusing alcohol is virtually certain never to do so. 
  • Parents have the greatest influence on whether their teens will choose to use.
  • Surveys have consistently found a relationship between children having frequent dinners with their parents and a decreased risk of their smoking, drinking or using other drugs.
  • Parental engagement fostered around the dinner table is one of the most potent tools to help parents raise healthy, drug-free children.

Simply Put: Frequent Family Dinners Make a Difference!

Compared to teens who have frequent family dinners (five to seven per week), those who have infrequent family dinners (fewer than three per week) are:

  • almost three times likelier to say, “it’s okay for teens my age to use marijuana”
  • three and a half times likelier to say, “it’s okay for teens my age to get drunk”
  • twice as likely to say that they expect to try drugs in the future, including marijuana and prescription drugs without a prescription to get high

Also, a teen’s access to drugs is related to the frequency of family dinners. Teens who have infrequent family meals are more likely to be able to get alcohol, prescription drugs or marijuana in an hour or less.

Family Meals Strengthen the Quality of Family Relationships

The Columbia Survey demonstrates the “magic” that can happen at family dinners: 

  • When asked about the best part of family dinners, the most frequent answer from teens is the sharing, talking and interacting with family members.
  • Three-quarters of teens who report having dinner with their family at least once a week find the interaction and being together to be the best part of family dinners.
  • Teens whose families frequently eat dinner together not only spend more time at the table together, they spend more time together in general. 

A Wonderful Back-to-School Gift

At this time of year, one of the most valuable gifts you can give your teen is not the latest back-to-school fashion or “must-have” electronic. Instead, it will happen around your dining room or kitchen table, where your family will share a meal, conversation, and traditions with the people who matter most. 

RECOMMENDED RESOURCE

Read the entire 2012 Family Dinners Report, The Importance of Family Dinners VIII from The National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse at Columbia University. The report presents and comments on the results of the teen survey discussed in this article.

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