Saturday, September 17, 2005

Family Dinners - Cure Many Cultural Ailments

"Figures don't lie, but liars figure," said Mark Twain, an I have learned over the years to be very wary of statistics. During college I had the opportunity to do a couple of research papers where it was totally up to me to come to conclusions about the data I had compiled. The temptation was huge to use what I wanted and discard what didn't fit the model. I wish that was the only reason to be wary.

Sometimes, it is only the way that the model is devised, or the questions that are left out that create the problem. Having said all that, a new report is just one of many that seems to suggest that eating dinner as a family results in so many benefits that we may want to make it illegal to eat any other way.

Ten Benefits of Family Dinners

The survey notes 10 positive trends for teens who eat dinner often with their families:

—Less likely to smoke cigarettes

—Less likely to drink alcohol

—Less likely to try marijuana

—Less likely to have friends who use illicit drugs

—Less likely to have friends who abuse prescription drugs

—More likely to get mostly A’s and B’s at school

—More likely to say they would confide in one or both parents about a serious problem

—More likely to report that their parents are very proud of them

—More likely to report lower levels of stress and tension at home

—More likely to talk to their families during dinner and have the TV off during the meal

Another study found

Younger kids who usually ate dinner with their families were less likely to be overweight than children who had fewer family dinners, Taveras found. But the advantage disappeared in the teen years, when teens often skipped family dinners.

A skeptic might suggest that all of the above are merely evidence of a functioning family, as is eating meals together. So that the eating meals together component would not necessarily be specifically causative of the the first ten. You could make a better argument for the weight being directly related, since the parents would be exercising better control over quantity and quality of food intake.

At the end of the day, however, it doesn't much matter if eating together as a family is specifically causative or is merely one evidence of what would likely be a well functioning family unit, the results speak for themselves. Parents who care how their kids turn out need to engage with their kids, create an environment where there is mutual respect and trust, and provide guidance and discipline.

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