Teens who have infrequent family dinners (two or fewer per week) are twice as likely to smoke daily and get drunk monthly, compared to teens who have frequent family dinners (at least five per week), according to a new report from the National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse (CASA) at Columbia University and sponsored by TV Land and Nick at Nite’s Family Table. This is the first time the study has examined the relationship between a teen’s current tobacco and alcohol use and family dinners.
The report, The Importance of Family Dinners III, also reveals that, compared to teens who have five or more family dinners per week, those who have two or fewer are:
- More than twice as likely to have tried cigarettes;
- One-and-a-half times likelier to have tried alcohol;
- Twice as likely to have tried marijuana; and
- More than twice as likely to say future drug use is very or somewhat likely.Findings in The Importance of Family Dinners III draw from CASA’s 11th annual back-to-school survey, released this past August.
The report’s findings underscore the significance of family dinners as a proxy for parental engagement.
Compared to parents who say their families have dinners together frequently, those who have infrequent family dinners are:
- Five times likelier to say they have a fair or poor relationship with their teen;
- One-and-a-half times likelier to say they know the parents of their teen’s friends not very well or not at all;
- More than twice as likely to say they do not know the names of their teen’s teachers; and
- Twice as likely to say that parents deserve not very much blame or no blame at all when a teenager uses illegal drugs.
“This year’s findings prove that family dinners and the communication that occurs over the course of a meal are critical in building a relationship with your children and to understanding the world in which they live,” said Joseph A. Califano, Jr., CASA’s chairman and president and former U.S. Secretary of Health, Education and Welfare. “Parents who have frequent family dinners are those who take the time to know their child’s friends and the parents of these friends, know their child’s teachers and chaperone their parties, and have healthier kids.”
“Once again, the study’s findings serve as a wake-up call to the benefits of engaging kids consistently at the family table,” states Larry W. Jones, president, TV Land and Nick at Nite. “Making the commitment to eat together on a regular basis can influence your kids’ lives more than anything else you do.”
If you can’t eat dinner together:
- Serve a small snack, and let everyone share something good that happened that day, or tell a little bit about their day. Make sure everyone gets a chance to talk, and that everyone feels valued and respected.
- Find a substitute gathering time – maybe right after school or just before bed – and stick to it.
- Eat a snack or play a game together a few times each week.
- Wake up early enough to sit down together at breakfast.
- Eliminate distractions like television and telephone calls from your family time.
- Make sure everybody gets a chance to talk, and as a parent, listen.
Too Busy for Dinner
This year, 58 percent of teens report having dinner with their families at least five times a week, the same proportion CASA has observed over the past several years. Consistent with what teens report, 59 percent of parents say they have frequent family dinners.
This year, for the first time the study asked teens and parents who have infrequent family dinners to tell us the main reason why their family does not have dinner together more often. More than one in five of these parents and teens say they are too busy to have dinner together more often. The reason most commonly given by parents for why family dinners are not more frequent is because of conflicting schedules, while the most common reason given by teens is because one or both parents work late.
Family Dining and Academic Performance
Teens who have frequent family dinners are likelier to get better grades in school, and higher academic performance is associated with lower substance abuse risk.
Teens who have dinner with their families five or more times a week are likelier to say that they receive either all As or mostly As and Bs in school compared to teens who have dinner with their families fewer than three times a week (63 percent vs. 49 percent). Teens who typically receive grades of C or lower are at twice the risk of substance abuse as those receiving all As or mostly As and Bs.
- Family dinners mostly take place at home: More than 90 percent of teens and parents say they have fewer than three family dinners per week at a restaurant or someplace other than their home.
- Family dinners are also more common than family breakfasts: Only 17 percent of teens and 13 percent of parents say they eat breakfast with a family member five or more times per week.
- Twenty-six percent of 17 year olds have family dinners seven nights per week compared to 51 percent of 12 year olds and 40 percent of 13 year olds.
- Teens who have frequent family dinners are more than twice as likely to say that parents are always home during the house parties they attend.
Compared to teens who have five or more family dinners per week, those who have two or less are twice as likely to report that half or more of their friends use marijuana and are one-and-a-half times likelier to say half or more of their friends drink alcohol.
“Of course there are no silver bullets; teen substance abuse can strike any family. But one factor that does more to reduce teens’ substance abuse risk is parental engagement and one of the simplest and most effective ways for parents to be engaged in their teens’ lives is by having frequent family dinners,” Califano concluded.