Did you know that Septemebr 22nd was Family Day? Family Day began in 2001 by CASA, The Center on Addiciton and Substance Abuse at Columbia University. Since 1996, CASA has been interviewing children ages 12-17 and parents in order to identify the factors that increase the liklihood of teen substance abuse. In the 10+ years of their research, one thing they have learned is that the more times a teen eats dinner with their family, the less likely they are to smoke, drink, or use drugs. As a matter of fact, it has consistently been the number variable that is within our control. Occasional family dinners are better than none, but regular family dinners are better than some. Family Day is designed as a day for parents to eat dinner with their children. It does not matter if you are making a gourmet meal, heating up leftovers, or ordering a pizza. The most important part of a family dinner is that the family is together. Encourage discussion by asking questions and learning about your children's cares and concerns. Answer their questions and listen to what they are saying. Talk about their friends. Discuss the dangers and your stand on drugs, alcohol and tobacco use.
Although Family Day is only once a year and it was started to reduce the number of teens who engage in substance abuse, the scope does not need to be so limited. Eat dinner as a family as often as possible and disuss concerns other than substance abuse as well. Dr. Jayne Fulkerson, of the University of Minneapolis' Project Eat, has been studying the effects of family meals for several years. Project Eat looks at the long term effects that family meals have on children. In addition to supporting the findings of CASA, Dr. Fulkerson has discovered that families that eat together eat more nutritionally and the children develop higher self esteem and social competency. Teenage girls who eat five or more meals a week with the family are much less likely to suffer from an eating disorder. Both teenage girls and boys that eat family meals regularly, are less likely to be sexually active, be suicidal or depressed, have antisocial tendencies, or have problems at school.
Although Family Day 2008 has come and passed, I hope you will still apply this article to your family life. Fit in as many family dinners as possible. Try to limit extracurricular activities that will prevent regular family meals. It is never too late to start.
Project Eat information
CASA and Family Day information