Over the past 16 years, The National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse (CASA) at Columbia University has surveyed thousands of American teens and their parents to identify factors that increase or decrease the likelihood of teen substance abuse. We have learned that a child who gets through age 21 without smoking, using illegal drugs or abusing alcohol is virtually certain never to do so. And, we’ve learned that parents have the greatest influence on whether their teens will choose to use.
Our surveys have consistently found that the more often children have dinners with their parents, the less likely they are to smoke, drink or use 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 difference.
In this report, The Importance of Family Dinners VI, we examine the link between the frequency of family dinners and teens’ substance use, their access to substances, and the quality of teens’ relationships with their parents. We also explore what teens think about family dinners.
Compared to teens who have frequent family dinners (five to seven per week), those who have infrequent family dinners (fewer than three per week) are:
- Twice as likely to use tobacco;
- Nearly twice as likely to use alcohol; and
- One and a half times likelier to use marijuana.
There is also a connection between the frequency of family dinners and a teen’s access to drugs. Compared to teens who have frequent family dinners, those who have infrequent family dinners are twice as likely to say they can get marijuana or prescription drugs (to get high) in an hour or less.
This year’s study demonstrates that the magic that happens at family dinners isn’t the food on the table, but the conversations around it. Three in four teens report that they talk to their parents about what’s going on in their lives during dinner; and eight in 10 parents agree that by having family dinner they learn more about what’s going on in their teens’ lives.
These conversations are key: Teens who say that they talk to their parents about what’s going in on their lives over dinner are less likely to smoke, drink and use marijuana than teens who don’t have such talks with their parents.
Our The National Survey of American Attitudes on Substance Abuse XV: Teens and Parents examined whether Family Ties, the strength of the bond between parents and teens, is related to the risk that a teen will smoke, drink or use drugs. We found that compared to teens in families with strong Family Ties, teens in families with weak Family Ties are:
- Four times likelier to have tried tobacco;
- Four times likelier to have tried marijuana; and
- Almost three times likelier to have tried alcohol.
Family dinner is an ideal opportunity to strengthen Family Ties. Teens who have frequent family dinners are almost three times as likely to say they have an excellent relationship with their mother and three times likelier to say they have an excellent relationship with their father; they are also more than twice as likely to report that their parents are very good at listening to them.
Teens themselves understand the value of family dinners: nearly three-quarters of teens think that eating dinner together with their parents is important. Most teens (60 percent) who have dinner with their parents fewer than five nights a week wish they could eat dinner with their parents more often. Compared to teens who don’t talk to their parents about what’s going on in their lives at dinner, those who do are more likely to think frequent family dinners are important and to want to have them more often.
Dinner isn’t the only time when parents can engage with their children. Parents who aren’t able to make it to the dinner table can take advantage of other opportunities for conversation. Among the families we surveyed, those other opportunities for conversation occur most frequently on the weekends and driving to and from school or other activities. Wherever these conversations occur, it’s important for parents to make talking to teens about what’s going on in their lives routine.
Our research findings on the importance of family dinners inspired us in 2001 to create an annual, national day of celebration, CASA Family Day — A Day to Eat Dinner with Your Children™. Family Day is celebrated every year on the fourth Monday in September, as a reminder to parents of the importance of family dinners. In 2010, Family Day will be celebrated on September 27th, its 10th anniversary. The president, the governors of all the states, and more than a thousand cities and counties all across America recognize the importance of family dinners by proclaiming and supporting Family Day. Hundreds of community organizations, churches, schools, and social centers celebrate Family Day. For more information about Family Day, and for ideas about how to make dinner together fun, visit our website, www.CASAFamilyDay.org.
The findings presented in this report come from The National Survey of American Attitudes on Substance Abuse XV: Teens and Parents, which CASA released on August 19, 2010. This year we surveyed 1,055 teenagers ages 12 to 17 (540 males, 515 females), and 456 parents of these teens via the Internet. We also conducted our usual telephone survey of 1,000 teens ages 12 to 17 (511 boys and 489 girls) in order to continue tracking trends from prior years. The methodology for CASA’s 2010 annual survey is described in Appendix A.
Word of Appreciation
I want to express CASA’s appreciation to Steve Wagner, President of QEV Analytics, Ltd., for administering the telephone survey and especially for his insightful work in analyzing the data, and to the staff at Knowledge Networks, including Jordon Peugh and Sergei Rodkin, for their administration of the Internet-based survey.
On CASA’s staff, Emily Feinstein managed this complex undertaking and wrote the report. Sarah Tsai conducted the data analysis. Kathleen Ferrigno, CASA’s Director of Marketing, and Lauren Duran, CASA’s Director of Communications, reviewed and edited the report. Roger Vaughan, DrPH, head of CASA’s Substance Abuse and Data Analysis Center (SADACSM), Professor of Clinical Biostatistics, Department of Biostatistics, Mailman School of Public Health at Columbia University and associate editor for statistics and evaluation for the American Journal of Public Health, reviewed the analysis. Jane Carlson efficiently handled the administrative aspects.