A new study from the National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse at Columbia University finds that teenagers who eat fewer than three dinners with their family each week are four times more likely to smoke cigarettes, and more than twice as likely to use alcohol or marijuana compared with teens who have five to seven family dinners each week. Teens who have fewer family dinners are also nearly four times as likely to say they expect to try drugs in the future, The Boston Globe reports.
"It's not the food at the table but the parent engagement that takes place during dinner when parents ask how a kid's day was," said Kathleen Ferrigno, director of marketing for the center. That daily conversational experience paves the way for communication when problems arise like pressure from a friend to smoke or drink.
The survey didn't look at whether other factors -- like a parent's income, divorce, religious practices, or education level -- could have contributed to a teen's propensity to use drugs or alcohol even more than, say, family dinners. For example, teens whose parents are divorced may be more likely to use alcohol and also less likely to have family dinners every night.
That aside, nightly dinners together can certainly provide psychological benefits to everyone in the family. "We also found in our survey that teens who have frequent family dinners are more likely to report having an excellent relationship with their parents and siblings," said Ferrigno.
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