Family Dinners Provide “Parent Power”

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When there are so many things that make parents feel out-of-control in raising their children, especially teenagers, there is good news from the National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse at Columbia University (CASA): teens from families who eat dinner together are less likely to use illegal drugs, alcohol and cigarettes. The opposite is also true: teens from families who rarely eat dinner together are more likely to engage in those and other risky behaviors.

So, parents who want to protect their children can take a simple step eat dinner together regularly.

Family dinners are key to having “parent power,” according to Joseph A. Califano, Jr., founding Chairman of the Board and President of CASA and former Secretary of Health, Education and Welfare under the Carter Administration. “Parents will get all upset at the possibility of their kids going into a school building that might have asbestos; they ought to be even more alarmed at the presence of drugs,” said Mr. Califano as he launched the national campaign for Family Day 2003 at a conference at the Kaiser Foundation in Washington, D.C. President Bush has released a Presidential Proclamation. Barbara Bush and Jamie Lee Curtis have joined the campaign by taping Public Service Announcements that will be aired nationally.

CASA’s research identified 8 indicators of teen substance abuse risk and having friends who use drugs or alcohol was at the top of the list. The big surprise, though, was that the number of teens who have regular family dinners drops by 50 percent as their substance abuse risk increases sevenfold. So, just at the time when teens are beginning to be at risk, parents surrender their “power” by decreasing the regularity of family meal times together.

Psychologist Wade Horn, who is the Assistant Secretary for Children and Families in the Administration for Children and Families at the United States Department of Health and Human Services, described the practice of a family eating together as “parental office hours.” Dr. Horn said that mealtime is a positive context for caring and sharing. “Good relationships,” he said, “require time and interaction. Regular meals together provide an opportunity for teens to talk with their parents without making a big deal about it.” Sadly, according to the data from CASA, family dinners tend to decline dramatically when children reach their teen years and that is just the time when having meals together becomes more important.

Family Day 2003 will be observed on September 22, 2003. Sponsoring organizations encourage Americans to routinely share meals as a family and, especially, to have dinner together on September 22nd in honor of Family Day 2003.

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