Growing up, being at the breakfast and dinner table together was mandatory. Even when my older sister had to be at high school at 7:00am, we would all have to be up and dressed for breakfast at 6:30am. And at dinner time, the television was off, and the phone was left unanswered. My parents clearly valued family time around the table. It was a rare and special occasion to watch a movie while eating around the table.
So for me growing up the table represented a place of security and stability. There could be turmoil and havoc during the rest of the day, but in that sacred time and place, I knew that I was loved and cared for and that we as a family would be okay.
I just found out that yesterday, September 27, was designated by all 50 states to be “Family Day – A Day to Eat Dinner with your Children.” In correlation with the tenth anniversary of Family Day, the National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse released new statistics on the importance of eating dinner together as a family (you can view the full report in .pdf format here). I myself have yet to read the full report.
Time Healthland summarized the results. The article states: “Teens who have infrequent family dinners — less than three per week — are more than twice as likely as teens who eat with their families at least five times each week to say they expect to try drugs in the future. Those same teens are twice as likely to have used tobacco and alcohol and 1.5 times as likely to have used marijuana.”
The study also asked students if eating together as a family was important to them – 72% said it was very or fairly important to them; however, only 60% of those students say they eat with their families at least five times a week.
Time Healthland reports, “The figures come from CASA’s annual teen survey, which this year interviewed 1,055 teenagers ages 12 to 17 and 456 parents of these teens via the Internet.”
While I am thrilled to see studies done on the importance of eating together as a family, I also am skeptical of the demographics of the students surveyed. I don’t think it is simply a matter of eating together that will prevent children from drinking and doing drugs, but rather those families that do eat together probably possess more foundational beliefs and traditions which enable the children to say no to drugs and drinking.
The key then is not simply eating dinner together, but parents wanting to and purposefully engaging with their teenage students. However, at the same time, I believe that a shared meal as a family can do a lot to foster such communication and openness.