Do Family Dinners Really Help Your Teen?, A study re-examines whether regular family meals reduce teen drug-use and delinquency. Do family dinners really reduce teen drug use?, Few would disagree that sitting down to dinner together as a family is a good thing. It can help families eat healthier, encourage meaningful conversation and according to some addiction researchers, it even keeps kids from using drugs.
Indeed, dining together has been so widely touted as a critical anti-drug measure that the fourth Monday in September has been designated “Family Day – A Day to Eat Dinner with Your Children” and is observed in all 50 states. In 2009, President Barack Obama even recognized Family Day in an official proclamation.
“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,” declares Joseph Califano, the founder of the National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse, which created Family Day, on the center’s website.
Problem is, the data don’t clearly show that family dinners alone are what matter. According to a large new study published in the Journal of Marriage and Family, teens who dine together with their families aren’t any less likely to use drugs or become delinquent in the long run, compared with teens who eat fewer family dinners. The reason previous studies found such a strong association, the researchers say, is that they didn’t last long enough to gauge the full effect or they failed to control for family-related factors other than dinner that can influence children’s drug and delinquency risk.
For instance, consider the kinds of families who are least likely to share meals regularly: those with actively addicted or alcoholic parents, families with disengaged parents, those in which parents are in the midst of intense family conflict, and families with demanding jobs or economic hardships that simply don’t permit parents and kids to spend much time together. All of these factors are independently linked with problematic teen behavior.