The dangers facing young people today are many: premarital sex, drug abuse, suicide, and dropping out among them. And if you listen to the “experts,” there are no easy answers for protecting our kids. And of course they are right. But saying there are no easy answers is entirely different from saying there are no answers.
I believe there is something moms and dads, aunts and uncles, grandmothers and grandfathers can do and start doing it tonight — that’s right — tonight — to make a real difference in the lives of our young people. It’s time to reclaim the family dinner.
I’m not saying this out of some kind of nostalgia for Ozzie and Harriet and the supposedly golden age of the 1950s. Families had problems back then, too. But I think a lot of families back then knew something many of us have forgotten: That it’s good to sit down together for a meal.
The dinner table is not only where we share good food and drink. It is also where we share our values, what happened to us during the day — the good, the bad, and the ugly. It’s where we ask questions and learn from each other. In a relaxed atmosphere we can talk about our faith. The dinner table can be a great refuge from life’s hard knocks and stresses.
That’s not just my opinion. The National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse at Columbia University finds that teens who have dinner with their parents three or fewer times per week are four times more likely to smoke, twice as likely to drink, two-and-a-half times more likely to smoke marijuana, and four times as likely to say they will use drugs in the future as those who eat dinner five to seven times a week with their parents.
These findings mirror the National Longitudinal Study on Adolescent Health, which is the largest longitudinal study ever done on adolescents. This study has some amazing statistics. Of twelve to fourteen year olds who don’t experience family dinners at least five days a week, 14 percent report drinking more than once a month. That’s kids twelve to fourteen. But for those who have family dinners, it’s cut to 7 percent!
Also, 27 percent of twelve to fourteen year olds who don’t have regular family dinners say they think about suicide, compared with only 8 percent of those who do eat with their families. Among seventeen to nineteen year olds, 68 percent without the influence of family dinners have had sex, versus 49 percent of those who have had family dinners.
I could go on and on, but you get the idea. Family dinners are vital — not just for food but for bonding and learning.
Now you’ll say: “Okay, having dinner with my kids is a good idea, but we’re just too busy.” Friend, believe me, I understand. In many homes, both parents work and have little time to cook food, let alone go to the supermarket and shop for it, and then clean up. And let’s face it: Our kids are just as busy as we are.
And look, I understand, instituting a welcoming and relaxing culture in the kitchen or dining room can seem daunting. Family dinners take planning, cooperation, and work. Your kids might protest at the new routine — at least at first. That’s okay. They will likely come to love it.
Get started, and see what works for you. But don’t let the perfect be the enemy of the good. Twice a week is better than none.
And I bet you’ll find being together as satisfying as a steak dinner with mashed potatoes and gravy. Bon appetit!