One of the common refrains that I hear from parents is how tough it is to keep up with everything that is going on in the lives of their kids. My own brothers and sisters will sometimes roll their eyes, and with a deep sigh recite the litany of activities and events that keeps them and my nieces and nephews on the go – school and plenty of after school activities, homework, athletics, shopping at the mall, youth group at their local parish – the list goes on and on! They tell me that they sometimes feel more like chauffeurs than parents!
Added into the mix for any parent these days are the innumerable pressures and temptations that young people are faced with – smoking, alcohol, drugs, sex. The normal adolescent inclination to test boundaries, to tune out Mom and Dad because they think that they’re all grown up and can make their own decisions, leaves many parents wondering, “how do we cope? What can we do to help our children navigate and make good decisions during these critical years in their lives?”
Fortunately, there is a simple, but highly effective tool that parents can use: eat dinner together as a family on a regular basis.
I’ve written about this before, but I believe in it so much that I wanted to bring it to your attention again. Next Monday, September 24, is Family Day – A Day to Eat Dinner with Your Children. It’s the brainchild of the National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse at Columbia University, which was founded by my friend Joe Califano, former presidential advisor and Secretary for Health, Education and Welfare.
There’s now more than a decade’s worth of research, all of it supporting the idea that the more a family gathers around the dinner table, the less likely a child is to engage in any kind of substance abuse, whether it be smoking, drinking or drugs. What you eat for dinner isn’t really important – no fancy gourmet meals, or elaborate menus are required. What is important is spending that time talking – and listening – with your kids. CASA lists a simple, four point pledge to becoming a STAR family:
S- Spend time with my kids by having dinner together
T- Talk to them about their friends, interests and the dangers of drugs and alcohol
A- Answer their questions and listen to what they say
R- Recognize that I have the power to help keep my kids substance free!
The older I get – I’m 62 now – the more I appreciate what my Mom and Dad did for us Dolan kids. We had dinner together every night when Dad got home from work. The meals weren’t elaborate (we couldn’t afford elaborate!) but they were vitally important for us to talk with one another, listen to one another, and, yes, be accountable to one another and to my parents.
If yours is one of those families that is constantly on the run, might I ask that you set aside this Monday and have dinner with your children – and that you work hard to make family dinner a regular part of your routine. It’s a simple thing to do, and the benefits could be truly life changing for your children.