The Importance of Family Dinners

Teens Less Likely to Smoke, Drink, Use Drugs

The number of teens who have regular family dinners drops by 50 percent as their substance abuse risk increases sevenfold, according to a survey of 12 to 17 year olds released by the National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse (CASA) at Columbia University.

The CASA report on the survey, "The Importance of Family Dinners," was made public at the launch event for Family Day: A Day to Eat Dinner with Your Children to be celebrated on September 22, 2003.

"The survey finds that the more often children have dinner with their parents, the less likely they are to smoke, drink or use illegal drugs," said Joseph A. Califano, Jr., chairman and president of The National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse (CASA) at Columbia University. "It is a tragedy that family dinners decline as teens get older."

"It is vital that frequent family dinners become a permanent fixture for children, not only when they are young, but throughout their teenage years," said Dr. Wade F. Horn, Assistant Secretary for Children and Families at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. "The frequency of family dinners decreases significantly as children enter and go through high school– and that's just when the benefits of family dinners may be needed most."

Califano and Horn unveiled a proclamation from President George W. Bush declaring September 22, 2003 to be Family Day, and stating: "Recent studies from the National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse at Columbia University found that teens from families who eat dinner together were less likely to use illegal drugs, alcohol and cigarettes, while teenagers who rarely eat dinner with the parents were more likely to engage in these unhealthy activities."

CASA and the Administration on Youth and Families also previewed a public service awareness campaign, promoting Family Day and its message. The campaign includes television spots featuring former First Lady Barbara Bush; radio spots featuring actress and CASA board member Jamie Lee Curtis; subway and bus posters; and movie theatre slides.

Family Day is a national effort to promote parental engagement as a simple, effective way to reduce youth substance abuse and raise healthier children.

Family Day Survey Findings

  • Compared to teens who have family dinners twice a week or less, teens who have dinner with their families five or more nights in a week are:
    • 32 percent likelier never to have tried cigarettes (86 percent vs. 65 percent).
    • 45 percent likelier never to have tried alcohol (68 percent vs. 47 percent).
    • 24 percent likelier never to have smoked pot (88 percent vs. 71 percent).
  • Teens who have family dinners twice a week or less are three times likelier than teens who have dinner with their families five or more times a week to say all of their friends use marijuana (9 percent vs. 3 percent).
  • Teens who have dinner with their families five or more times a week are almost twice as likely to receive A's in school compared to teens who have dinner with their families two or fewer times a week (20 percent vs. 12 percent). Teens who receive A's and B's are at half the risk of substance abuse as those who receive grades of C or lower.
    "We're thrilled to be launching this national campaign, and to have the participation of our former First Lady Barbara Bush and Jamie Lee Curtis," noted Dr. Horn and Mr. Califano. "Their commitment and that of the many organizations involved will help make Family Day a powerful symbolic reminder of the impact of family dinners and parental engagement on our nation's teens."

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