Eating a family meal at home, what a concept!
The simple ritual of a family dinner is, in fact, revolutionary, if you believe it has the power to instill good behavior in America's youth and curb kids from taking drugs.
Food Marketing Institute is throwing its support behind the family-meal-at-home concept. It is doing so not for any self-serving reason, but because it is impressed with statistics by The National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse at Columbia University that make a correlation, based upon back-to-school surveys, that kids who eat dinner with their families are less likely to take drugs.
At last week's FMI show, the food association said it would donate $25,000 to CASA to help promote Family Day on Sept. 25. The event, started in 2001, is a national effort to encourage parental engagement and increase parent-child communication through regular family dinners. (See Page 24)
CASA's most recent survey findings indicate that parental engagement is significantly effective in reducing the risk of substance abuse among teens, and the most effective way for parents to be engaged with their teens' lives is by having frequent family dinners.
The statistics show the risk of drug abuse is reduced by half for those kids who have dinner with their families five to seven times a week. Frequent family dinners are associated with lower rates of teen smoking, drinking and drug use.
The survey also points out the power family dining has over kids' grades, types of friends and family tension and stress. Those who participate in frequent family dinners have better grades and associate with friends who are less likely to do drugs. They also live in more calm and comforting households, compared to kids who eat dinner at home with their families only twice a week or less.
These are indeed compelling findings. The family dinner concept and CASA's findings on drug use are being supported by President Bush and his family, actress Jamie Lee Curtis and many big-name corporate entities. It almost sounds too good to be true, raising the question of how much should we really read into these statistics. Does correlation imply causation?
There is a danger of reading too much into such statistics, even though we'd like to believe a simple meal at home can help solve the nation's drug problems. Perhaps the last time we really saw the family sitting down together was in the late '50s when the Beav sat down with his brother, Wally, at the Clever family table to discuss happenings in Mayfield, for those of you who remember "Leave it to Beaver." Even then, television was competing for family mealtime and kids' attention. With the '60s, the concept of family began to crack with divorce rates doubling, first marriages falling and birth rates collapsing. The concept of the family meal is now a retro happening. It will take a lot more than family meals to understand and solve the very complex factors that lead to substance abuse. It might take a social revolution to bring the family back together again.