Family Dinners

Menstuff® has compiled the following information on The Importance of Family Dinners.

Moms' Views on Family Meal Influence Kids' Weight
Teens Less Likely to Smoke, Drink, Use Drugs
10 Benefits of Family Dinners
Poll: Family Ties Key to Youth Happiness
Family Gatherings

10 Benefits of Family Dinners

Eating dinner as a family can help kids long after the meal is over, a new study shows.


Moms' Views on Family Meal Influence Kids' Weight

Moms concerned about keeping their kids fit and trim may want to encourage an increasingly threatened institution: the healthy family meal. That's true even if family members occasionally fall short of their goal of eating together each day, according to a study published in a recent issue of the journal Obesity Research.

Teens Less Likely to Smoke, Drink, Use Drugs

The number of teens who have regular family dinners drops by 50 percent as their substance abuse risk increases sevenfold, according to a survey of 12 to 17 year olds released by the National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse (CASA) at Columbia University.

The CASA report on the survey, The Importance of Family Dinners, was made public at the launch event for Family Day: A Day to Eat Dinner with Your Children to be celebrated on September 22, 2003.

"The survey finds that the more often children have dinner with their parents, the less likely they are to smoke, drink or use illegal drugs," said Joseph A. Califano, Jr., chairman and president of The National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse (CASA) at Columbia University. "It is a tragedy that family dinners decline as teens get older."

"It is vital that frequent family dinners become a permanent fixture for children, not only when they are young, but throughout their teenage years," said Dr. Wade F. Horn, Assistant Secretary for Children and Families at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. "The frequency of family dinners decreases significantly as children enter and go through high school– and that's just when the benefits of family dinners may be needed most."

Califano and Horn unveiled a proclamation from President George W. Bush declaring September 22, 2003 to be Family Day, and stating: "Recent studies from the National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse at Columbia University found that teens from families who eat dinner together were less likely to use illegal drugs, alcohol and cigarettes, while teenagers who rarely eat dinner with the parents were more likely to engage in these unhealthy activities."

CASA and the Administration on Youth and Families also previewed a public service awareness campaign, promoting Family Day and its message. The campaign includes television spots featuring former First Lady Barbara Bush; radio spots featuring actress and CASA board member Jamie Lee Curtis; subway and bus posters; and movie theatre slides.

Family Day is a national effort to promote parental engagement as a simple, effective way to reduce youth substance abuse and raise healthier children.

Family Day Survey Findings

Compared to teens who have family dinners twice a week or less, teens who have dinner with their families five or more nights in a week are:

Teens who have family dinners twice a week or less are three times likelier than teens who have dinner with their families five or more times a week to say all of their friends use marijuana (9 percent vs. 3 percent).

Teens who have dinner with their families five or more times a week are almost twice as likely to receive A's in school compared to teens who have dinner with their families two or fewer times a week (20 percent vs. 12 percent). Teens who receive A's and B's are at half the risk of substance abuse as those who receive grades of C or lower.

"We're thrilled to be launching this national campaign, and to have the participation of our former First Lady Barbara Bush and Jamie Lee Curtis," noted Dr. Horn and Mr. Califano. "Their commitment and that of the many organizations involved will help make Family Day a powerful symbolic reminder of the impact of family dinners and parental engagement on our nation's teens."

Poll: Family Ties Key to Youth Happiness

So you're between the ages of 13 and 24. What makes you happy? A worried, weary parent might imagine the answer to sound something like this: Sex, drugs, a little rock 'n' roll. Maybe some cash, or at least the car keys.

Turns out the real answer is quite different. Spending time with family was the top answer to that open-ended question, according to an extensive survey - more than 100 questions asked of 1,280 people ages 13-24 - conducted by The Associated Press and MTV on the nature of happiness among America's young people.

Next was spending time with friends, followed by time with a significant other. And even better for parents: Nearly three-quarters of young people say their relationship with their parents makes them happy.

"They're my foundation," says Kristiana St. John, 17, a high-school student from Queens in New York. "My mom tells me that even if I do something stupid, she's still going to love me no matter what. Just knowing that makes me feel very happy and blessed."

Other results are more disconcerting. While most young people are happy overall with the way their lives are going, there are racial differences: the poll shows whites to be happier, across economic categories, than blacks and Hispanics. A lot of young people feel stress, particularly those from the middle class, and females more than males.

You might think money would be clearly tied to a general sense of happiness. But almost no one said "money" when asked what makes them happy, though people with the highest family incomes are generally happier with life. However, having highly educated parents is a stronger predictor of happiness than income.

And sex? Yes, we were getting to that. Being sexually active actually leads to less happiness among 13-17 year olds, according to the survey. If you're 18 to 24, sex might lead to more happiness in the moment, but not in general.

From the body to the soul: Close to half say religion and spirituality are very important. And more than half say they believe there is a higher power that has an influence over things that make them happy. Beyond religion, simply belonging to an organized religious group makes people happier.

And parents, here's some more for you: Most young people in school say it makes them happy. Overwhelmingly, young people think marriage would make them happy and want to be married some day. Most also want to have kids.

Finally, when asked to name their heroes, nearly half of respondents mentioned one or both of their parents. The winner, by a nose: Mom.

Happiness is ...

"...two kinds of ice cream," according to the song from "You're a Good Man, Charlie Brown." John Lennon, more darkly, described it as a warm gun. A much more typical description comes from Stacy Rosales, a 23-year-old recent college graduate, who calls it "just a general stress-free feeling where I'm not really worried about anything. THAT makes me happy."

For Chad Fiedler, 17, it's "just waking up in the morning and looking forward to what I'm going to be doing that day." And for Eoshe Roland, a 14 year old from Nashville, it's "playing trumpet in my school band."

However you express, define or feel it, 65 percent of those surveyed say they're happy with the way things are going for them right now.

We are family:

When asked what one thing makes them most happy, 20 percent mentioned spending time with family - more than anything else. About three-quarters - 73 percent - said their relationship with their parents makes them happy. After family, it was relationships with friends that people mentioned most.

"It's good news to hear young people being realistic about what really makes them happy," says psychologist Jean Twenge, author of "Generation Me" and a professor at San Diego State University. "Research has shown us that relationships are the single greatest source of happiness."

Also confirming existing research, Twenge says, is the finding that children of divorced parents are somewhat less likely to be happy. Among 13-17 year olds, 64 percent of those with parents still together said they wake up happy, compared to 47 percent of those with divorced parents.

First Comes Love, Them Comes...:

Overall, romantic relationships are a source of happiness - but being in one doesn't necessarily lead to greater happiness with life in general.

"It would be nice, but where I am right now is, I want to take care of myself," says Rosales. "Before you can be in a committed relationship you have to know who you are and what you really want."

Eventually, though, marriage is a goal for most young people, with 92 percent saying they either definitely or probably want to get married.

"I don't want to be one of those career businesswomen who just doesn't ever settle down," says St. John, the New York high school student.

Money, Money, Money:

Money may make the world go around, but when asked what one thing makes them happiest, almost nobody in the poll mentioned money or anything material. Still, money does play a role in happiness.

Those who can't afford to buy many of the things they want are less happy with life in general. Just under half of young people think they'd be happier if they had more money, while the same percentage (49 percent) say they'd be just as happy.

"I'm going to college next year," says Fiedler, who will attend Drexel University in Philadelphia. "Not the cheapest thing nowadays. Money isn't the most important thing, but if something happens, it can turn into it."

Stresses, Fears:

Young people in this survey had a 10 percent higher stress rate than adults did in a 2006 AP-Ipsos poll. For ages 13 to 17, school is the greatest source of stress. For those in the 18-24 range, it's jobs and financial matters.

Only 29 percent feel very safe traveling, and 25 percent very safe from terror attacks. Still, those interviewed said the fear of terror interfered very little with their lives.

DRUGS AND ALCOHOL: Alcohol users are slightly less happy than those who don't drink. The differences are more remarkable among 13-17 year olds; just 40 percent of those who drank in the last seven days reported being happy with life, versus 68 percent of those who didn't. And 49 percent of illegal drug users reported being happy with life, compared with 66 percent of those who didn't use drugs.

Racial Divide:

While 72 percent of whites say they're happy with life in general, just 56 percent of blacks and 51 percent of Hispanics say that. And 66 percent of whites were happy at the moment the interview began, compared with 57 percent of minorities.

Sustenance for the Soul:

"I just like believing in something greater than me and everybody else," St. John, who attends a Catholic school, says of her commitment to religion. "When I pray, sometimes it just makes me feel better, if I'm freaking out about things."

Those for whom religion and spirituality plays a bigger role tend to be happier, according to the poll. More than half - 55 percent - say it is either a very important part of life or the single most important thing in their lives.

I Need a Hero:

Oprah Winfrey? Michael Jordan? Hillary Clinton ? Tiger Woods? All those names came up when people were asked about heroes. Of public figures, Martin Luther King, Jr. got the most mentions. But nearly half mentioned one of their parents, with mothers ranking higher (29 percent) than fathers (21 percent.)

"My parents came here from the Philippines in the '70s," says Rosales. "They raised a family and got to where they are from scratch. My mother's now the director of a hospital. I admire them both so much."

"My mother is a pastor, and she's my role model," says Esohe, the 14 year old in Nashville. "She's so giving." Blacks and Hispanics were more likely than whites to name their mothers.

Also mentioned: God (more than 10 percent), teachers (nearly 5 percent); and members of the military, policemen and firefighters.

The Crystal Ball:

Will young people grow up to be happy adults? Overall they're optimistic: Sixty-two percent think they'll be happier in the future than they are now. (Those over 18 are more optimistic.) But many anticipate a more difficult life than their parents had.

"I think a lot about my kids and what their lives are going to be like," says Fiedler. "There may be wars going on, who knows. I just have a feeling it's going to be harder for the future generation to be happy."

The AP-MTV poll was conducted by Knowledge Networks Inc. from April 16 to 23, and involved online interviews with 1,280 people aged 13 to 24. It had a margin of sampling error of plus or minus 3 percentage points.

AP News Survey Specialist Dennis Junius contributed to this report.

Family Gatherings

A serving of drama with your holiday turkey? If your family fights, or going home triggers bad memories, you can cope.

Don't expect the worst. Focus on catching up with a cousin or enjoying your favorite dish.

Make a plan. Have a trusted relative ready to spring you from bad conversations.

Set a time limit. Stop by for just 15 minutes. Or if you can't bear to go, just RSVP "no."


When plastic reindeer and pressure to outdo last year's gifts are just plain depressing, here are some ways to put the focus back on whatever's meaningful to you:

Spend quality time with loved ones. Draw from your beliefs. Stick to simple traditions. Make a donation to charity instead of giving gifts.


How to cope: Behold the power of "No." Sounds silly, but practice saying it – out loud, in front of a mirror. Feel free to drop "no" to any holiday invitation. You don't have to give a reason. Making a commitment to yourself to stay well-rested is healthy.

If there's an obligation you feel you must honor but you're still feeling overwhelmed, ask for help. Be specific. For example, "Can you bring the salad?"

Financial Worries

You don't have to spend a lot -- or even anything -- to show you care.

Try: Buying books, personalizing by topic. Writing a thoughtful note or making gifts. Or scheduling a coffee or dinner with friends to enjoy one another's company.

When shopping, create a budget early and stick to it. Scope out gifts online to avoid impulse buys in the mall frenzy.

Unrealistic Expectations

Life is hectic year-round. Add the pressure to produce a perfect holiday while also being merry and it's easy to be left feeling bogged down, not festive.

Coping tip: Ditch perfectionism. No time to bake cookies for your son's classmates? Store-bought cookies are just fine. Forgot the wreath? It's OK. Your family will forgive you.


Staying up late wrapping presents, devoting days to make tins of chocolate treats for neighbors, or hustling through the mall can be exhausting and take its toll.

Coping tip: Take a breather. Remember, you can't enjoy the holidays if you're wading through them in a zombie-like fog. Make time to rest and revitalize. Plan nights in with no commitments and head to bed early.


Relatives. Shopping. Travel. Party planning. Finding childcare. Holidays can add to stress or sadness you feel during the regular year.

To survive: Plan daily "me time." Just set aside 15 minutes to go walking or do something else you enjoy.

If you see a therapist, make arrangements to go more often if you feel you'll need it. Or ask if you can do phone check-ins in case of crisis.

Breaking Healthy Habits

So you had an extra cup of eggnog. It's OK. Don't let a one-time holiday overindulgence derail the healthy habits you work on all year -- like eating well, getting enough rest, and taking medications regularly.

Tips to get on track: Start fresh tomorrow. Try fresh veggies or fruit as a pre-party snack to curb buffet regrets. Avoid alcohol or know your limit. Keep a set exercise and eating routine.

Being Away from Family and Friends

If you can't make it home this holiday or your friends have other plans, try:

Branching out. Celebrate with folks who will be in town and start a new tradition.

Looking ahead. Plan a visit in the New Year. Focusing on a future visit can take your mind off the present.

Volunteering. It places you around people and the emphasis on giving. Studies show helping others can help improve your mood and well-being.

Shorter Days, Lack of Sunlight

The darkness of winter really does affect some people's moods. Sadness, anxiousness, loss of interest in activities, or sleeping more every winter can be a sign of depression called seasonal affective disorder (SAD). More than half a million Americans are affected.

Coping tip: If you have symptoms that last more than two weeks, see your doctor. Treatment is available.

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Dispensing advice is always easier than biting one's own tongue. - Richard Stillerman

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