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Family dinners work some kind of magic

September 23, 2009 |  6:00 am

Teenagers who have frequent family dinners are much less likely to drink and use drugs, according to a report released today. It doesn't seem to matter what food is served, the authors point out. The value appears to be in the social interaction between family members and the attention that parents give their children during a meal.

The report, titled "The Importance of Family Dinners V," summarizes research that began more than a decade ago that has found that children who have meals with their parents are less likely to smoke, drink or use drugs. In this year's survey, researchers looked at the link between the frequency of family dinners and teens' substance abuse, teens' relationships with their parents and what effect distractions such as phones and other electronic devices have at the dinner table.

Dinners

Researchers from the National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse found that teens who have family dinners fewer than three times a week -- compared with those who have family dinners five or more times a week -- were much more likely to use drugs and alcohol and have less academic success. Teens who say they have family dinners but that there are distractions at the table also have higher rates of substance abuse that teens who have frequent family dinners without interruptions.

The survey found that 59% of teens and 62% of parents reported having dinner with their families at least five times a week. Of those who didn't dine together frequently, 69% said they're too busy with work and other activities to share meals. However, two-thirds of the respondents said they would be willing to give up a weeknight activity to have dinner with their family. The average family dinners lasts about 35 minutes, according to the survey.

"The message for parents could not be any clearer: Turn off your cellphone -- and tell the kids to do the same. Make a regular date with your kids. Let them know how important they are to you. Listen to what they have to say," said Joseph A. Califano Jr., founder and chairman of the center.

The survey of 1,000 teenagers and 452 of their parents was conducted this year. The center an annual "Family Day -- A Day to Eat Dinner with Your Children," which will be held this year on Monday, Sept. 28.

-- Shari Roan

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