Family dinners, long considered to be a way to reduce the odds of teen substance abuse, may not be as effective as previously thought, a new study suggests.
The study included data from a survey in which almost 18,000 teenagers were interviewed three times between 1994 and 2002. Before socioeconomics, family structure and teens’ relationship with their parents were taken into account, family meals appeared to have a large effect—each meal eaten with a parent in one week reduced the risk of substance abuse by 15 percent.
However, once these factors were taken into account, the effect of family meals was reduced by more than half, The Wall Street Journal reports. The researchers found similar results for depression and delinquency.
“We find that most of the association between family meals and teen well-being is due to other aspects of the family environment. Analyses that follow children over time lend even weaker evidence for causal effects of family meals on adolescent and young adult well-being,” lead researcher Kelly Musick of Cornell University said in a news release.
The study appears in the Journal of Marriage and Family.