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Parent Education

Family Dinners May Have Health Benefits for Teens

No question, it's tough in today's world of overscheduled kids and dual-income working parents to make time for a nightly family dinner. But the latest research suggests it's one of the most important things parents can do to keep their teens away from drugs and alcohol. Previous studies have shown that home-cooked family meals lower a teenage girl’s risk of developing an eating disorder.

A survey of more than 2,000 American teens released today from the National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse at Columbia University found that those who have infrequent family dinners -- fewer than three per week -- are almost four times likelier to use tobacco and are more than twice as likely to use alcohol or marijuana compared with teens who have five to seven family dinners each week. They're also nearly four times as likely to say they expect to try drugs in the future.

"It's not the food at the table but the parent engagement that takes place during dinner when parents ask how a kid's day was," said Kathleen Ferrigno, director of marketing for the center. That daily conversational experience paves the way for communication when problems arise like pressure from a friend to smoke or drink.

The survey didn't look at whether other factors -- like a parent's income, divorce, religious practices, or education level -- could have contributed to a teen's propensity to use drugs or alcohol even more than, say, family dinners. For example, teens whose parents are divorced may be more likely to use alcohol and also less likely to have family dinners every night.

That aside, nightly dinners together can certainly provide psychological benefits to everyone in the family. "We also found in our survey that teens who have frequent family dinners are more likely to report having an excellent relationship with their parents and siblings," said Ferrigno.

If those nightly dinners together are just too tough to coordinate, have a family breakfast together instead. "It just about making time to spend together," said Ferrigno, "and the more you can do it, the better."

By Deborah Kotz, Globe Staff - - 9/22/2011


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