Eating as a family pays off

Want to bond with your brooding teenagers? Try eating dinner with them five times a week, with a poll finding this keeps them off drugs and alcohol – and the teens also enjoy it.

by: Bekinda Goldsmith | 25 Sep 2007

A survey reaffirmed previous studies that found teenagers who ate dinner as a family five or more times a week are less likely to use drugs, smoke, or drink alcohol than peers who ate with their families two times or less a week.

But the poll of 1,063 teenagers and 550 parents conducted by QEV Analytics found contrary to many parents' expectations, most teenagers actually wanted to eat with their families.

"Overall about 84 percent of the kids said they would prefer to have dinner with their parents," said Elizabeth Planet, project manager of the survey commissioned by The National Centre on Addiction and Substance Abuse (CASA) at New York's Columbia University.

The survey comes amid a growing push by some parents and family groups for the return of family meals which have declined sharply since the 1970s and 1999.

A UNICEF report earlier this year put the United States at the bottom of the richest nations when it came to eating as families with only 65 percent of 15-year-olds eating the main meal of the day with their parents several times a week. In France, Italy and Russia, it was more than 90 percent.

The fourth CASA survey on the importance of family dinners found that 59 percent of teens surveyed between April 2 and May 13 reported having dinner with their families at least five times a week.

Teens that had two or less meals a week with their family were 3-½ times more likely to have abused prescription medication, three times more likely to have used marijuana, and one and half times more likely to drink alcohol.

The teens that ate regularly with their families also got better grades, with 64 percent reporting mostly As and Bs compared to 49 percent of other teens.

But for the first time they asked about the best time of day to talk, and the dinner table emerged as the favourite with nearly half of parents and teens giving it the nod.

"There is nothing magical about dinner but it comes at the end of the day when you are winding down and it is a nice time for people to come together," said Planet.

"You don't see the same thing at breakfast time. Everyone is rushing out of the door."

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