Can having dinner as a family, prevent your teen from using drugs and alcohol?

What happened to old fashioned family dinner time?  We live in an age where everything is fast-paced and electronic.  Families dine in their cars after visiting fast food restaurants instead of eating at home.  When families do eat at home, everyone is doing their own thing.  Someone is watching TV, someone else is working on an iPad or a laptop.  I have even heard of family members texting one another while having dinner.

I was shocked to hear that there were kids who had never sat down and had dinner as a family.  This phenomenon is completely foreign to me.  I am the youngest of six children and we had dinner as a family everyday.  My Dad did not have dinner with us during the week because he worked from 3:00pm until 11:00pm, but he was at the dinner table on the weekends.  My children don't know any other way to eat dinner.  There are occasions when my husband works late and we eat without him, but it doesn't happen very often.

We use dinner time to have really important discussions.  The dinner table can be a great venue to have good discussions because you have a captive audience.  Dinner time is used to talk about everyone's day and anything else that may be on our minds.  My husband and I have had some really great parenting experiences at our dinner table.  If you can't think of anything to talk about, tell your kids a funny story.  Ask everyone to go around the table and talk about something that happened at school or work.  There is no TV or electronic devices at the dinner table.  Have an open forum for questions with no limits.  It makes me feel good as a parent when my children feel comfortable asking questions about any and everything at the dinner table.

Family dinners don't have to take place at home.  We are fortunate to live close to the lake front and downtown.  When the weather is nice, we will pack a picnic dinner and walk or ride our bikes to the lake front for dinner.  Millennium Park has great concerts in the summer.  We will order take out food and take the bus or ride our bikes downtown for a concert in the park.  Family dinners have always been an important part of our lives.

A study by the National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse at Columbia University  has found that the more often children have dinners with their parents, the less likely they are to smoke, drink or use drugs.  The study also states that parental engagement fostered around the dinner table is one of the most potent tools to help parents raise healthy drug-free children.  The study compares teens who have family dinners 5-7 times per week to teens who have fewer than 3 family dinners per week.  Teens who have family dinners fewer than 3 times per week are twice as likely to use tobacco, nearly twice as likely to use alcohol and one and a half times as likely to use marijuana.  According to the study, teens who say that they talk to their parents about what's going on in their lives over dinner are less likely to smoke, drink or use drugs.  This study also ties family dinners to academic success, access to drugs & alcohol and friendships with others who use drugs & alcohol.

I would like to encourage everyone to start having family dinners.  If you plan to start having family dinners, you may need to start by doing it one day a week and gradually work up to 5-7 days.  It can have a great impact on your family even if your children are too young to worry about drug and alcohol abuse.  You will be amazed at the topics of conversation that can take place when you are sitting at a quiet table with no distractions.

Happy Family Dinner Time!!

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  • I couldn't agree with you more. I have two teenagers and an 8 year old and have been fortunate enough to be able to have family meals (with dad present) nearly every night for the last four year and more. (Before that dad traveled a lot). I can't emphasize how important it is with teens, because they tend to hang out in their bedrooms a lot, and that doesn't necessarily mean they dislike you. I wasn't aware of the correlation with drugalcohol use, although we have had some fairly detailed discussions with the teens about both, and I think they were listening.
    It is very difficult to have dinner together if you have a few kids and they're all doing different activities though. When my teens were little we made a big thing out of Sunday evening dinners.

  • In reply to Expat in Chicago:

    I agree with you about the busy schedules with teens. Every dinner together helps, even if its once a week.

  • I also agree very strongly! In my house, no matter what we are doing, everything gets turned off and we DO have dinner together.
    I have two kids who like to talk over each other, so we use an apple as a talk tool. Who ever has the apple shares their day, on to the next, including my husband and I.
    Concept of no family dinner is very disturbing to me. Really people? You are too busy to spend time with the most precious gift you have been given...your family. Impressive blog!

  • In reply to Chef Jody:

    I like the apple idea. I'm going to try it.

  • We try to have dinner together every night. If someone is at practice or otherwise away, the rest of us still sit down together. Another thing that has worked well is Sunday brunch. Most people are around at that time. Sometimes when I ask the kids how their day was, the answer is just "fine", so I've started asking more specifics: tell me one tidbit from each school period (quiz returned, a classmate got in trouble, whatever). Practically every tidbit can launch a conversation. Sometimes we have trouble getting through it all. It's also a good time to practice manners, respecting someone else's talking time, etc. That part is a work in progress, especially with teenagers.

  • In reply to annekip63:

    My kids always say that they had a good day. I had to start asking them what made it a good day. Keep them talking. A previous reader uses an apple to take turns talking at the dinner table to help with respecting the talking time of others.

  • Great topic. Family dinners are very important and it shouldn't be that difficult to sit down with your family to eat dinner, but it is. I'm going to make it more of a priority.

  • In reply to Yoga Mom:

    It's tough sometimes because we are so busy. My childhood was not filled with so many activities. We played outside a lot after school which is something kids don't do as much today.

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