By Idaho Senator Mike Crapo
As we begin 2008, many people have "lose weight" on their resolution lists. For some, these extra pounds are the result of more than one family dinner of traditional "comfort food" and celebrations from Thanksgiving through New Year's Day. While it's important to shed extra weight for our health, what's even more important is that we continue the practice of spending meal time with our families, the focus for many of us during the holidays. Time and again, studies show that children of families who eat dinner together more frequently are far less likely to use drugs, tobacco or alcohol; they do better in school; and they eat healthier than children who eat dinner with their families less often. While drug, tobacco and alcohol abuse among teens has declined in recent years, the importance of the family dinner as a deterrent to destructive behavior remains unchanged.
Since 2001, illicit drug use and use of steroids, alcohol, tobacco and methamphetamine among our youth has diminished-in some cases, dramatically. This is great news, reinforcing the notion that the vigilance of parents, teachers and community members pays off when it comes to youth and drugs. Unfortunately, as is the case with drugs, when use of one drops, another usually takes its place.
Did you know that:
• The number of adolescent girls that started using alcohol and marijuana and smoking cigarettes surpassed that of boys in 2004?
• While the use of street drugs is in decline among teens, use of prescription drugs and over- the-counter medication to get high is on the rise? (A risky, new activity among some teens is "pharming," which refers to trading prescription/OTC medications, then ingesting the mix of pills, often with alcohol, to get high-and teens are not just taking an extra couple of pills here and there. They are ingesting handfuls, sometimes several bottles of pills and cough syrup a day.)
According to the National Youth Anti-Drug Media Campaign, studies show that children whose families eat together at least five times a week are less likely to be involved with drugs or alcohol-a common finding among researchers. According to a National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse at Columbia University (CASA) study completed in 2007 on the importance of family dinners:
• 59 percent of teens report having dinner with their families at least five times a week.
CASA found that, compared with teens who eat dinner with their families at least five times a week, those who eat dinner with their families fewer than three times per week:
• Are at least three times as likely to have abused prescription drugs, marijuana and other illegal drugs;
• Are more than twice as likely to have used tobacco and almost twice as likely to have used alcohol;
• Are more than twice as likely to do poorly in school.
CASA also found that
• Frequent family dinners for twelve and thirteen-year-olds show even greater deterrent effects when it comes to using tobacco, marijuana and alcohol than for older teens.
These are just a few of many studies that draw the same conclusion: family time, especially at dinner, is critical to the mental and physical health and well-being of our children. Idaho families are among the strongest in the nation. We know the importance of family time and positive family communication. As we prepare for the challenges, joys and predictably busy schedules of 2008, we need to keep our family close and time together, a priority. A happy, healthy and blessed New Year to you and yours!