The Case for Family Style Meals
Following up my post on family dinners (What Makes Sit Down Meals Work in Boarding School? It’s the adults), I think some readers might be interested in one of the larger recent studies examining the effects of the family dinner.
If you’re interested in the power of adult engagement and the family style meal, take a look at “The Importance of Family Dinners IV” published by CASA, The National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse at Columbia University, or CASA for short.
Here’s CASA Chairman and President Joseph Califano’s opening statement to the study; it’s much like an executive summary.
Accompanying Statement by Joseph A. Califano, Jr., Chairman and President
For more than a decade, CASA has been conducting a survey of the attitudes of teens and those, like parents, who most influence them. While other surveys measure the extent of substance abuse in the population, the CASA survey seeks to identify factors that increase or diminish the likelihood that teens will smoke, drink, use illegal drugs or abuse prescription drugs. We believe that parents, armed with this knowledge, can help their teens grow up drug free.
This nation’s drug problem is all about kids. A child who gets through age 21 without smoking, abusing alcohol or using illegal drugs is virtually certain never to do so. And no one has more power to prevent kids from using substances than parents. There are no silver bullets; unfortunately, the tragedy of a child’s substance abuse can strike any family. But one factor that does more to reduce teens’ substance abuse risk than almost any other is parental engagement, and one of the simplest and most effective ways for parents to be engaged in teens’ lives is by having frequent family dinners.
This year, 59 percent of teens report having dinner with their families at least five times a week, the same proportion we have observed in the past several years, and an increase in family dining from the 1996 CASA survey, when the relationship of frequent family dinners to substance abuse risk was first detected.
Family Dinners and Teen Smoking, Drinking and Drug Use
Frequent family dining is associated with lower rates of teen smoking, drinking, illegal drug use and prescription drug abuse. Compared to teens who eat dinner frequently with their families (five or more family dinners per week), those who have infrequent family dinners (fewer than three per week) are:
three and a half times likelier to have abused prescription drugs,
three and a half times likelier to have used an illegal drug other than marijuana or prescription drugs,
three times likelier to have used marijuana,
more than two and a half times likelier to have used tobacco, and
one and a half times likelier to have used alcohol.
Family Dinners and Current Teen Substance Use
Teens who have frequent family dinners are less likely to currently use marijuana and tobacco, drink alcohol and get drunk.
Compared to teens who eat dinner frequently with their families, those who have infrequent family dinners are:
more than twice as likely to have used marijuana in the past 30 days,
almost twice as likely to have drunk alcohol in the past 30 days,
almost twice as likely to have used tobacco in the past 30 days,
and more than one and a half times likelier to have gotten drunk in the past 30 days.
Family Dinners, Age and Substance Use
The relationship between frequent family dinners and substance use that we observe among all teens is also observed to varying degrees at every age level. The impact of frequent family dinners seems strongest among the youngest children in our survey, and the behavior that appears to be most significantly affected among teens of all ages is marijuana use.
Compared to 12- and 13-year olds who have frequent family dinners, 12- and 13-year olds who have infrequent family dinners are six times likelier to have used marijuana, more than four and a half times likelier to have used tobacco and more than two and a half times likelier to have used alcohol.
Compared to 14- and 15-year olds who have frequent family dinners, 14- and 15-year olds who have infrequent family dinners are three times likelier to have used marijuana and two and a half times likelier to have used tobacco.
Compared to 16- and 17-year olds who have frequent family dinners, 16- and 17-year olds who have infrequent family dinners are more than twice as likely to have used marijuana and almost twice as likely to have used tobacco.
At ages 14 through 17, those teens who have infrequent family dinners are likelier to have used alcohol than those teens who have frequent family dinners.
Family Dinners and Teens with Friends Who Use Substances
Teens who have infrequent family dinners are twice as likely to report that half or more of their friends currently drink beer or other alcoholic beverages, compared to teens who have frequent family dinners.
Teens who have dinner with their families less than three times a week are three times likelier to say half or more of their friends currently use marijuana, compared to teens who have dinner with their families at least five times a week.
The CASA survey and 15 years of my life devoted to understanding this problem lead me to this bottom line: preventing America’s drug problems is not going to be accomplished in court rooms, legislative hearing rooms or classrooms, by judges, politicians or teachers. It will happen in living rooms and dining rooms and across kitchen tables–by the efforts of parents and families.”(TIFD)