Family Dinner Time Can Lower Teen Substance Use Rates

TOPEKA, Kan. (WIBW) - Turns out a powerful weapon in the war on drugs could be the dinner table.

Monday, Sept. 23, is Family Day - A Day to Eat Dinner with Your Children. The event on the fourth Monday of September was launched as a campaign by CASAColumbia in 2001, and has been coordinated statewide by Kansas Family Partnership since 2002.

Studies show that taking time between sports, school and all the other stuff to sit down to a meal as a family just once a week serves up a big impact.

Dr. Ashley Hisel with Topeka's Cotton-O'Neil Clinic says studies show there is a decreased risk of alcohol, drug and tobacco use among teens who eat dinner with their family at least once a week. The more frequent the family meals, she says, the greater the benefit. She says the practice also has been linked to lower rates of depression.

Hisel says she thinks it boils down to communication. She says a family dinner gives parents and children more time to learn about each other. It also is a chance for parents to exhibit behavior for their children to model, including manners and conflict resolution.

Hisel says to make sure it's quality time by unplugging -- turn off the television and ban the phones. She says conversation can be as casual or formal as you want, and can start with the simple question, "How was your day?"

The conversations foster a parent-child connection that surveys indicate is one of the most effective tools to keep youth drug-free. Hisel says family time is important to reinforce to children that there is someone they know and who knows them, and they can have that communication and sense of belonging.

Hisel says frequent family meals also decrease obesity rates since they tend to include from fruit and vegetables and healthier home cooking.