Thursday, March 1, 2012

Can having dinner as a family, prevent your teen from using drugs and alcohol?

By Tracy A. Stanciel,

February 24, 2012 at 6:00 am What happened to old fashioned family dinner time? We live in an age where everything is fast-paced and electronic. Families dine in their cars after visiting fast food restaurants instead of eating at home. When families do eat at home, everyone is doing their own thing. Someone is watching TV, someone else is working on an iPad or a laptop. I have even heard of family members texting one another while having dinner.

I was shocked to hear that there were kids who had never sat down and had dinner as a family. This phenomenon is completely foreign to me. I am the youngest of six children and we had dinner as a family everyday. My Dad did not have dinner with us during the week because he worked from 3:00pm until 11:00pm, but he was at the dinner table on the weekends. My children don't know any other way to eat dinner. There are occasions when my husband works late and we eat without him, but it doesn't happen very often.

We use dinner time to have really important discussions. The dinner table can be a great venue to have good discussions because you have a captive audience. Dinner time is used to talk about everyone's day and anything else that may be on our minds. My husband and I have had some really great parenting experiences at our dinner table. If you can't think of anything to talk about, tell your kids a funny story. Ask everyone to go around the table and talk about something that happened at school or work. There is no TV or electronic devices at the dinner table. Have an open forum for questions with no limits. It makes me feel good as a parent when my children feel comfortable asking questions about any and everything at the dinner table.

Family dinners don't have to take place at home. We are fortunate to live close to the lake front and downtown. When the weather is nice, we will pack a picnic dinner and walk or ride our bikes to the lake front for dinner. Millennium Park has great concerts in the summer. We will order take out food and take the bus or ride our bikes downtown for a concert in the park. Family dinners have always been an important part of our lives.

A study by the National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse at Columbia University has found that the more often children have dinners with their parents, the less likely they are to smoke, drink or use drugs. The study also states that parental engagement fostered around the dinner table is one of the most potent tools to help parents raise healthy drug-free children. The study compares teens who have family dinners 5-7 times per week to teens who have fewer than 3 family dinners per week. Teens who have family dinners fewer than 3 times per week are twice as likely to use tobacco, nearly twice as likely to use alcohol and one and a half times as likely to use marijuana. According to the study, teens who say that they talk to their parents about what's going on in their lives over dinner are less likely to smoke, drink or use drugs. This study also ties family dinners to academic success, access to drugs & alcohol and friendships with others who use drugs & alcohol.

I would like to encourage everyone to start having family dinners. If you plan to start having family dinners, you may need to start by doing it one day a week and gradually work up to 5-7 days. It can have a great impact on your family even if your children are too young to worry about drug and alcohol abuse. You will be amazed at the topics of conversation that can take place when you are sitting at a quiet table with no distractions.

Happy Family Dinner Time!!

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