Amid the vast array of scientific literature on reducing teens’ risk for substance use, a new report offers a method as pure and simple as pulling up chairs around the family dinner table.
Teens whose families eat dinner together at least five times per week are less likely to smoke, drink and use drugs, according to a recent report from the National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse at Columbia University. But teens whose families gather around the dinner table fewer than three times per week are almost four times more likely to smoke, more than twice as likely to use alcohol and two and a half times more likely to use marijuana.
Even worse, teens whose families infrequently come together for dinner are nearly four times more likely to say they can see themselves trying drugs in the future, according to the report. Published in September, the report is the seventh in a multi-year series on the importance of family dinners from the National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse at Columbia University.
“This year’s study again demonstrates that the magic that happens at family dinners isn’t the food on the table, but the conversations and family engagement around the table,” said Joseph Califano Jr., founder and chairman of the National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse at Columbia University. “When asked about the best part of family dinners, the most frequent answer from teens is the sharing, talking and interacting with family members. The second most frequent answer is sitting down or being together.”
According to the report, teens who eat few dinners with their families each week are more likely to say they have ready access to alcohol, prescription drugs or marijuana. But teens whose families gather regularly for the evening meal are more likely to report having no access to such drugs.
More than half — or 58 percent — of teens surveyed reported having dinner with their families at least five times a week, according to “The Importance of Family Dinners VII.” The number of U.S. teens who share frequent dinners with their families has remained consistent over the past decade, according to the report, which also found that teens who have frequent family dinners are more likely to report having excellent relationships with their parents and siblings.
The report found that teens who infrequently break bread with their families are also more likely to have parents who fail to take the time to check in with their children on a regular basis.
“Parental engagement in children’s lives is key to raising healthy, drug-free kids, and one of the simplest acts of parental engagement is sitting down to the family dinner,” Califano said. “Seventeen years of surveying teens has taught us that the more often children have dinner with their families the less likely they are to smoke, drink or use drugs.”