For the past two months I have been on the losing end of a battle. I naively asked my husband if we could try to eat dinner together just two evenings a week as a family. I don’t know about you, but I recall eating dinner every night with my family when I was growing up. I have fond memories of sitting around the kitchen table, kicking one of my sisters under the table and giggling at a secret joke, or slowly letting brussels sprouts trickle one-at-a-time to the floor to my accomplice, my eager dog, Sheila. Somehow, my mother, who worked full-time as a social worker (not an easy job, by any means) and my father, who ran a medical research group at a university, managed to be home together nightly by around 6 p.m. But no matter how hard I try, my husband and I just can’t swing it. I’ve even suggested waiting to have dinner until 7 or 7:30 p.m., but that, apparently, is too early as well. Between last minute requests for work, or my husband’s last minute travel needs, or last minute networking dinners—it seems there are endless responsibilities that if we neglect, we aren’t being good employees. But sadly, our son, now five years old, typically only has family dinners with both mommy and daddy at the table on weekends or holidays. According to research from Columbia and Harvard Universities, if we keep this up, we can be fairly sure that our son will not be as secure as a teenager and will be more likely to try drugs and have poor grades. Here’s the low-down:
According to a survey conducted by The National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse at Columbia University (CASA), teenagers who eat with their families at least five times a week are more likely to get better grades in school and much less likely to have substance abuse problems.
Today, only about half of American teenagers say they have regular family dinners and the survey suggests that family time may be more important to children than many parents realize—even more important than a host of extra-curricular activities.
CASA surveyed 1,000 teens and 829 parents of teens and determined that teens having family dinners five or more times a week were 42 percent less likely to drink alcohol, 59 percent less likely to smoke cigarettes, and 66 percent less likely to try marijuana.
The survey also found that frequent family dinners were associated with better school performance, with teens 40 percent more likely to get As and Bs. Shockingly, the CASA report says teens who only have two or less family dinners a week “are twice as likely to smoke daily and get drunk monthly, compared to teens who have frequent family dinners (at least five per week).”
A Harvard University study found that family dinners were incredibly important ‘family events’ and helped children develop language skills, as well.
Other perks to family dinners are obvious. Typically, family dinners are healthier, so kids eat a more nutritious meal than they would from fast-food or take-out. Here is a succinct list from the CASA study of the benefits found for your teens:
- Families typically eats healthier meals
- Teens are less likely to become overweight
- Teens are less likely to try cigarettes
- Teens are less likely to drink alcohol, or consume as much as peers
- Teens are less likely to try marijuana
- Teens are less likely to use illicit drugs
- School grades will be better
- You and your kids will talk more
- You'll be more likely to hear about a serious problem
- Typically there will be less tension at home
So, will this growing body of research help my husband navigate his office culture and bravely leave by 6:30 p.m. two nights a week in order to be home for a scheduled 7:30 p.m. dinner? Stay tuned.