THUNDER BAY – Throughout history, families have gathered for meals. It is a time to share what has happened throughout the day, and for parents and their children to spend time together. Now, the importance of that quality time is being seen, according to a study by the National Centre on Addiction and Substance Abuse at Columbia University as a way to make sure that children avoid alcohol, tobacco and marijuana.
The study states that “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 four times likelier to use tobacco; more than twice as likely to use alcohol; two-and-a-half times likelier to use marijuana; and almost four times likelier to say they expect to try drugs in the future”.
The CASA Columbia family dinners report revealed that teens who have infrequent family dinners are likelier to say they have ready access to alcohol, prescription drugs (without a prescription in order to get high) or marijuana. Compared to teens who have frequent family dinners, those who have infrequent family dinners are more likely to be able to get alcohol, prescription drugs or marijuana in an hour or less. In contrast, teens who have frequent family dinners are more likely to report having no access to such drugs.
The CASA Columbia family dinners report reveals that 58 percent of teens report having dinner with their families at least five times a week, a proportion that has remained consistent over the past decade.
“This year’s study reinforces the importance of frequent family dinners,” said Joseph A. Califano, Jr., CASA Columbia’s Founder and Chairman and former U.S. Secretary of Health, Education, and Welfare. “Ninety percent of Americans who meet the medical criteria for addiction started smoking, drinking, or using other drugs before age 18. 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. 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.”
Family Relationships Matter
This year’s report examined the quality of family relationships between a child and his or her parents and a child and their sibling(s) and found that teens who report having close family relationships are less likely to smoke, drink or use marijuana.
The family dinners report found that teens having frequent family dinners are more likely to report having excellent relationships with their family members. Compared to teens having infrequent family dinners, teens having frequent family dinners are:
- One-and-a-half times likelier to report having an excellent relationship with their mother;
- More than twice as likely to report having an excellent relationship with their father; and
- Almost twice as likely to report having an excellent relationship with their sibling(s).
Compared to teens who have frequent family dinners, teens who have infrequent family dinners are almost two-and-a-half times likelier to report that their parents do not regularly make time to check in with them.
Less Time Spent with Parents Related to Increased Risk for Substance Abuse
Teens who have frequent family dinners spend more time with their parents overall, and the report finds a relationship between time spent together and teen substance abuse. Compared to teens who spend 21 hours or more per week with their parents, teens spending seven hours or less are twice as likely to use alcohol, and twice as likely to say they expect to try drugs (including marijuana and prescription drugs without a prescription to get high) in the future.
Teen Perceptions of Sibling Substance Use Related to Teen Substance Abuse Risk
Compared to teens who do not believe their older sibling or siblings have ever tried an illegal drug, teens who believe their sibling(s) have are:
- More than five-and-a-half times likelier to use tobacco;
- Almost three times likelier to use alcohol;
- Six-and-a-half times likelier to use marijuana; and
- More than three times likelier to expect to try drugs (including marijuana and prescription drugs without a prescription to get high) in the future.
Length of the Family Dinner
The report found that families having frequent dinners spend more time around the dinner table.
Five percent of teens say their family dinners usually last less than 15 minutes; 27 percent say 15 to 20 minutes; 41 percent say 21 to 30 minutes; and 28 percent say dinner usually lasts more than 30 minutes.
Teens having infrequent family dinners are four times likelier to say dinner lasts less than 15 minutes compared to those teens having frequent family dinners. Teens having frequent family dinners are twice as likely to say dinner lasts more than 30 minutes, compared to those teens having infrequent family dinners.
“Although having dinner is the easiest way to create routine opportunities for engagement and communication, dinner isn’t the only time parents can engage with their children,” said Kathleen Ferrigno, CASA Columbia’s Director of Marketing who directs the Family Day-A Day to Eat Dinner with Your Children™ initiative. “If your schedule can’t be rearranged to include family dinners, engage in other kinds of activities with your children so that you are a reliable, involved, and interested presence in their lives. Remember the magic that happens over family dinners isn’t the food on the table, but the communication and conversations around it. Creating opportunities to connect is what’s important.”