How often does your family have dinner together?
That simple question often evokes an answer of, "Ummmmmm......"
What used to be the most basic of activities has become increasingly difficult to schedule in today's busy world. But bringing back the time-honored practice of "breaking bread" with your own family could be the single greatest step you take toward saving your family from all kinds of ills.
For more than a decade, the National Center of Addiction and Substance Abuse (CASA) at Columbia University has been studying the tremendous impact that family meals have on children. Their research repeatedly shows how children suffer when they don't spend regular, casual time with their parents gathered around the dinner table. Consider this summary of their findings:
"Compared with teens who frequently had dinner with their families (five nights or more per week) those who had dinner with their families only two nights per week or less were twice as likely to be involved in substance abuse. They were 2.5 times as likely to drink alcohol, and nearly three times as likely to try marijuana."
Dining together makes a huge difference in general family relationships too. Children from families who don't have frequent meals together are more than twice as likely to say that the family has strained or tense relationships. And, sadly, they often don't feel as if their parents are very interested in their lives.
There's no reason to wonder if lonely meals lead to strained relationships or vice versa - find out by making togetherness a priority. "Just do it." It might be a worn-out phrase, but as the parent, you need to determine in your heart to make family dinners happen.
And, although they won't tell you, your teens want you to make it a priority. Really.
The pop culture constantly tells parents the pernicious lie that teenagers don't want them around. But teenagers say something very different. CASA's research, for instance, reveals: "When asked whether they prefer to have dinner with their families or to eat alone, 84 percent of teens surveyed say they prefer to have dinner with their families, compared to 13 percent who say they prefer to eat dinner alone (three percent responded 'don't know' or gave no response)."
Yet, statistics show that as teens grow older they are less likely to eat with their parents. My guess is that it's because mom and dad often feel too overwhelmed to take the initiative to bring them around the table, or have bought the lie that older children don't need family time.