Family Dinners May Not Have Big Effect on Teens’ Substance Abuse Risk, Study Suggests

Family dinners, long considered to be a way to reduce the odds of teen substance abuse, may not be as effective as previously thought, a new study suggests.

The study included data from a survey in which almost 18,000 teenagers were interviewed three times between 1994 and 2002. Before socioeconomics, family structure and teens’ relationship with their parents were taken into account, family meals appeared to have a large effect—each meal eaten with a parent in one week reduced the risk of substance abuse by 15 percent.

However, once these factors were taken into account, the effect of family meals was reduced by more than half, The Wall Street Journal reports. The researchers found similar results for depression and delinquency.

“We find that most of the association between family meals and teen well-being is due to other aspects of the family environment. Analyses that follow children over time lend even weaker evidence for causal effects of family meals on adolescent and young adult well-being,” lead researcher Kelly Musick of Cornell University said in a news release.

The study appears in the Journal of Marriage and Family.

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    June 1, 2012 at 3:21 PM

    I have suspected that family meals are counter-productive and am glad to see them get more close scrutiny. Getting the family together to discuss issues sounds good, but at mealtime there is definite risk in conducting any conversation of such seriousness that any child might be driven to bolt (i.e. swallow hurriedly) unpersalivated food in order to answer promptly to some real or fancied critique, slight or taunt– with a chain of results including maldigestion and future behavior pathologies. Wouldn’t it be better if everyone ate informally when they felt hungry, but met regularly in the Work Room to help with the family industry and talked while hands were busy?

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