Friday, November 23, 2007

The Family Meal -- Why Bother?

We keep hearing about the family meal and why it’s so important. Having meals together is associated with all kinds of good stuff for your kids: they are more likely to do well in school, less likely to do drugs, and overall more likely to have greater feelings of self-esteem. Also, kids, even teenagers, actually like to eat dinner with their families and tend to eat healthier food compared to eating alone.

Many of the statistics on this subject come from The National Center for Addiction and Substance Abuse at Columbia University (CASA), a think tank headed by Joseph A. Califano, Jr. After years of researching people with alcohol and substance abuse problems and designed programs to help them, Dr. Califano decided that CASA could also take a proactive role in promoting family dinners. If family dinners are indeed “protective,” families can take this step to prevent alcohol and substance abuse problems in teenagers.
A child who reaches age 21 without smoking, abusing alcohol or using drugs is virtually certain never to do so. - Joseph A. Califano, Jr., CASA Chairman and President
Some people react very negatively to this idea of family dinner, saying it’s a throw-back to the 1950s or an impossible goal for dual-working families. Some recount their own awful dinner table experiences as children when the family table was used to heap abuse or criticism on each other rather than offering support.

CASA’s report and other studies suggest that the dinner table doesn’t have to be all about “quality time.” It’s more about togetherness and consistency. (That is, it doesn’t matter whether the TV is on or whether the meals last more than 15 minutes.) I think that the argument for quality is more about making if enjoyable for you as an adult. Make it fun, make it the highlight of your day, bring the family meal to your house.

Read the full report here. You can download it for free, or order hard copies.


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