Your Mom Was Right About Family Dinners

By Jeff Forester 09/23/11

Eating regular meals as a family is associated with dramatically lower rates of teen drug use, finds a CASA study.

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Regularly sitting down to share a family meal may carry even wider benefits than traditionalists imagine, according to a report released yesterday by the National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse at Columbia University (CASA). Compared to teens who eat dinners with family between five and seven times per week, those who share fewer than three family dinners a week are at greatly increased risk: they're nearly four times likelier to smoke cigarettes; more than twice as likely to drink alcohol; two-and-a-half times likelier to smoke pot; and almost four times likelier to say they expect to try drugs in the future. Then there's the worrying way that teens who eat family dinners infrequently report being able to score drugs or booze in an hour or less, when many regular family diners say they're unable to find drugs or alcohol at all. “I am going to share this study with every parent at my goal-setting conferences,” Allison Rubin, a junior high teacher at inner city Minneapolis School Clara Barton, told The Fix. “Parents need to know that simply having dinner with their kids has such a dramatic impact.” Older brothers and sisters also play an important role, it seems: teens who believe that their older sibling(s) have tried an illegal drug are more than five-and-a-half times likelier to smoke; three times likelier to drink; six-and-a-half times likelier to get high on pot, according to CASA. “Ninety percent of Americans who meet the medical criteria for addiction started smoking, drinking, or using other drugs before age 18,” said Joseph A. Califano, Jr., CASA’s founder and Chairman. “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.”

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Jeff Forester is a writer in Minnesota. His book, Forest for the Trees: How Humans Shaped the North Woods, an ecological history of his state's famed Boundary Waters, came out in paperback in 2009. Jeff is the Executive Director of MN Lakes and Rivers Advocates MLR and you can follow him on Twitter.