The Importance of Family Dinners 2009 | CASAColumbia

The Importance of Family Dinners V

The Importance of Family Dinners V

Published: September 2009

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CASAColumbia has surveyed thousands of American teens and their parents to identify situations and circumstances that influence the risk of teen substance abuse. What we have learned is that parental engagement in children’s lives is fundamental to keeping children away from tobacco, alcohol and other drugs, and that parents have the greatest influence on whether their teens will choose not to use substances. Our surveys have consistently found a relationship between children having frequent dinners with their parents and a decreased risk of their smoking, drinking or using other drugs, and that parental engagement fostered around the dinner table is one of the most potent tools to help parents raise healthy, drug-free children. Simply put: frequent family dinners make a big difference.


CASAColumbia contracted with QEV Analytics, a national public opinion research firm, to conduct a nationally representative telephone-based survey of 1,000 teens, ages 12 to 17 (509 boys, 491 girls), and 452 parents of these teens.


This report found that 59% of teens (and 62% of the parents surveyed) reported having dinner with their families at least 5 times a week. Compared to teens who had frequent family dinners (5 or more per week), those who had infrequent family dinners (2 or fewer per week) were twice as likely to have used tobacco or marijuana, more than 1.5 times likelier to have used alcohol, and twice as likely to have expected to try drugs in the future. The report revealed that compared to teens who had frequent family dinners without distractions at the table (e.g., someone talking or texting on a cell phone or using a BlackBerry, laptop or Game Boy), those who had infrequent family dinners and said that there were distractions at the table were 3 times as likely to have used marijuana, 3 times as likely to have used tobacco and 2.5 times as likely to have used alcohol.

This report also examined the role of parental attitudes in substance abuse prevention and the importance of family dinners in relation to academic performance.

A Note on the Language
In 2012, CASAColumbia stopped using words like “drug abuse”/“drug abuser” because the terms are imprecise and have negative connotations. Instead, we now distinguish between “addiction” (clinical criteria for the disease) and “risky use” (use of addictive substances in ways that increase the risk of harm but do not meet criteria for addiction). Some reports and other publications published prior to 2012 still contain this language.

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