One of my most indelible memories growing up was the nightly get-togethers with my family. My mother did everything possible to make sure we all sat down as a family during dinner, just as she had done in her childhood. She and my grandmother were outstanding cooks, but it was never really about the food.
My mother always believed that family dinners created bonds, led to clear communication and provided an ideal routine to catch up with everyone at the end of the day. Looking back, our dinner table was always filled with conversation and laughter. I believe this contributed to why I always felt safe, secure and confident as a child.
Many years later, reports have emerged to echo my mother’s sentiment. The National Center of Addiction and Substance Abuse (CASA) at Columbia University released a series of studies that justified why frequent family dinners mattered, deriving the following conclusions:
- Children who enjoy frequent dinners with their family are far less likely to develop substance abuse problems in their teens.
- Teenagers who have family dinners less than twice a week are 2.5 times more likely to smoke cigarettes and 1.5 times more likely to consume alcohol.
- Teenagers who don’t regularly have family dinners are more likely to engage in illegal activities and are 3 times more likely to smoke marijuana.
- 64 percent of teenagers who ate dinner with their families 5 to 7 times per week received mostly A’s and B’s, compared to only 49 percent of teenagers who had family dinners less than twice a week.
Incorporating Family Dinners
If you ask my parents about my childhood, they’ll tell you I was a handful. Often, I preferred to watch TV or talk on the phone during dinner time instead of sitting and eating a meal with my parents. I wasn’t a perfect child, nor was I able escape punishment. However, receiving consistent time to discuss a wide range of topics with people who cared about me helped me foster a good level of trust and openness with my family. Growing up knowing I had this strong support system helped me set goals, stay focused and lead an effective life path.
If you’re lucky enough to receive a second chance through sobriety, don’t discount the significant benefits frequent family dinners have on the lives of your children and young relatives. As simple as it may sound, just gathering at the table and enjoying a meal together is powerful enough to help turn them off the idea of abusing substances.
Carve out a consistent dinner schedule to explore how the children in your family are feeling. Remember to make it a point to turn the TV off, put everyone’s phones away and give each other your undivided attention. Give them a protected environment to discuss their thoughts and be genuinely curious about the school pressures they may be dealing with, such as homework, friends or bullying. In the end, children need to know that they have people who are reliable, involved and interested in their lives, which can have a lasting impact on the choices they make on their own.
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