American teenagers who regularly have family dinners are much less likely to have used drugs, alcohol or marijuana compared to their peers who have family dinners infrequently, according to a new study – The Importance of Family Dinners VI – carried out by researchers from The National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse (CASA), Columbia University. Those defined as having family dinners frequently did so from five to seven times per week, while those who had family dinners fewer than three times a week had infrequent family dinners.

The authors found that 72% of teenagers in the USA believe that regular family dinners with parents are either very or fairly important.

The study reveals that teenagers who do not have occasion to talk to their parents regularly during family meals are twice as likely to have used tobacco products compared to peers who regularly meet up at the dinner table with their parents. Marijuana use was found to be one-and-a-half times more likely.

Kathleen Ferrigno, CASA’s director of Marketing who directs the “Family Day – A Day to Eat Dinner with Your Children initiative”, said:

The message for parents couldn’t be any clearer. With the recent rise in the number of Americans age 12 and older who are using drugs, it is more important than ever to sit down to dinner and engage your children in conversation about their lives, their friends, school – just talk. Ask questions and really listen to their answers. The magic that happens over family dinners isn’t the food on the table, but the communication and conversations around it. Of course there is no iron-clad guarantee that your kids will grow up drug free, but knowledge is power and the more you know the better the odds are that you will raise a healthy kid.

According to the report, teens who gather with their family at the dinner table infrequently are twice as likely to be able to get hold of prescription drugs to get high or marijuana within an hour, compared to other teens. On the other hand, a much higher percentage of teens who have family dinners frequently say they cannot get hold of marijuana or prescription drugs to get high.

The investigators also found that fewer teenagers who have frequent family dinners have friends who use substances.

The authors write that the number of teens reporting having frequent family dinners has stayed about the same, at 60% over the last ten years.

When compared to those who have five to seven family dinners each week on a regular basis, teenagers who have fewer than three per week:

  • Have a 1.5 higher probability of having friends who use marijuana and alcohol regularly
  • Have a 1.5 higher chance of having friends who abuse prescription medications to get high
  • Have a 1.25 higher chance of having friends who use cocaine, acid, methamphetamine, heroin or ecstasy.

Joseph A. Califano, Jr., CASA founder and chairman and former U.S. Secretary of Health, Education, and Welfare, said:

We have long known that the more often children have dinner with their parents the less likely they are to smoke, drink or use drugs. We can now confirm another positive effect of family dinners–that the more often teens have dinner with their parents, the more likely they are to report talking to their parents about what’s going on in their lives. In today’s busy and overscheduled world, taking the time to come together for dinner really makes a difference in a child’s life.

The survey reports that strong family ties are clearly linked with a lower probability of teenage smoking, alcohol consumption and illegal drug use. Teenagers who report that their relationship with their parents is excellent are much less likely to use substances.

CASA has been surveying thousands of US teenagers and their parents over the last 16 years. The aim has been to identify factors that raise the risk of teen substance abuse. CASA researchers have found that if a child can get through his/her first 21 years of life without smoking, abusing alcohol or using illegal drugs, their chances of virtually never doing so are extremely high. CASA also learnt that the greatest influence on whether a child will choose to use these substances and how they use them are their parents.

CASA stresses that:

Parental engagement fostered around the dinner table is one of the most potent tools to help parents raise healthy, drug-free children.

‘The Importance of Family Dinners VI’
The National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse (CASA)

Written by Christian Nordqvist