More than a decade of research by The National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse (CASA) at Columbia University has consistently found that the more often kids eat dinner with their families, the less likely they are to smoke, drink or use drugs.
CASA created Family Day -- A Day to Eat Dinner with Your Children ™ in 2001 as a national effort to promote family dinners as an effective way to reduce substance abuse among children and teens. Family Day is celebrated on the fourth Monday every September.
It's a known fact that families today are busier than ever and a tradition of eating a family meal together has been put on the back burner as more people are working longer hours, children get involved in more activities and nuclear families don't seem to be as prevalent as they once were. No matter who you are or what you do, if you have children in your life, communication is a primary step in helping to keep children from substance abuse. Family mealtime is a good place to start, reviewing events of the day or just finding out what is happening in a child's life. Research by CASA shows that a child who gets through age 21 without smoking, abusing alcohol or using illegal drugs is virtually certain to never do so. The conversations that go hand-in-hand with dinner will help you learn more about your children's lives and better understand the challenges they face. No one has more power to prevent kids from abusing substances than parents.
If busy schedules are making it hard for your family to pencil in regular family meals, take a "time out" to consider all the benefits of gathering around the dinner table. Just as you schedule time for doctor or hair appointments, you can schedule time for a family meal too. Making family dinners a priority is about more than just sharing a meal.
A family meal doesn't need to be fancy. It can be a picnic, take place at a restaurant, on mom or dad's lunch break, or at your child's school. Just taking time to listen to your child can go a long way in building a positive relationship that could help when they may someday be faced with an offer of drugs or alcohol. 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.
Other ways to help keep children, grandchildren, or other children in your life stay substance free include:
* Set a good example.
* Know your child's whereabouts, activities and friends.
* Set fair rules and hold your child to them.
* Maintain open lines of communication.
* Surround your child with positive role models.
* Learn the signs and symptoms of teen substance abuse and conditions that increase risk.
Joseph A Califano, Jr. CASA chairman and former United States Secretary of Health, Education and Welfare, says "America's drug problem is not going to be solved in courtrooms or legislative hearing rooms by judges and politicians. It will be solved in living rooms and dining rooms and across kitchen tables -- by parents and families."
So, next Monday, why not make a special effort to eat dinner with your family and consider all the benefits of regular family meals.
Editor's Note: Ann Ludlum is a K-State Research and Extension family and consumer sciences and 4-H extension agent assigned to Bourbon County. She may be reached at (620) 223-3720 or firstname.lastname@example.org.