Saturday, August 07, 2004

Dinner as defense

Want to look out for your teen's emotional well-being and guard him or her from the temptations of substance abuse? All you have to do is make that young person sit down for a meal with you. That's the advice from researchers at the University of Minnesota, who surveyed more than 4,500 adolescents to glean their family-dinner and risk-taking habits. Among their findings:
"Frequency of family meals was inversely associated with tobacco, alcohol and marijuana use; low grade-point average; depressive symptoms, and suicide involvement," the study authors wrote. "We found family mealtimes to be a potentially protective factor in the lives of adolescents for nearly all of these variables, particularly among adolescent girls."
Now for our particular adolescent girl, family meals seem to be an especially fertile venue for eye-rolling, attitude-throwing, and pained tolerance for the aggressively uncool behavior of parental and brotherly units. More often than not, our cozy family dinners are interrupted by time-outs, by silent treatments, by sarcastic comments or by heavy, heavy sighs.

But who knows. Maybe having a nightly opportunity to express contempt for so much of what her family does releases that particular need to distance herself from us, and so she won't have to find more dangerous ways to do that. I don't know, though. As an adult, I've observed that having meals with my own extended family generally makes me more inclined to drink or to contemplate violent acts. Maybe the University of Minnesota needs to do a follow-up study of folks in their 40s.

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