Mealtime is quality time

You're probably familiar with the adage "the family that prays together stays together." Well, apparently, the same is true for the family that eats together. Family time is crucial bonding time, according to a new study.

Time around the dinner table can make a real difference in your children's lives, especially if you are the parents of girls. This is something to think about given that summer is winding down and most families are now looking ahead to a new school year and busy schedules.

The report is also a great affirmation for so many good Catholic parents out there who tell me how hard they work at putting family meals at the top of the priority list, despite the increasing pressure from the culture to enroll their children in practically every activity under the sun.

A new report from University of Minnesota researcher Marla Eisenberg shows that the more time girls spend with their parents at the dinner table, the less likely they will give into peer pressure. Eisenberg is an assistant professor at the university's medical school and the study's lead author.

Researchers looked at 806 adolescent middle-school students and found girls who reported at least five meals each week with families were much less likely to drink, smoke cigarettes or use drugs. The impact of the family dinner dynamic was found to be so strong in this study that positive results occurred for girls with both strong and weak parental relationships.

"This study adds to the mounting evidence of the benefits of family meals for adolescents by looking at the development of substance abuse over five years," Eisenberg stated.

Eisenberg explains her research adds to the notion that family meals are an extremely valuable protective factor in the lives of young people.

The study, which appears in the August issue of the Journal of Adolescent Health, involved questioning participants at two points five years apart regarding their family eating patterns as well as whether or how often they used alcohol, marijuana and cigarettes. Eisenberg is not sure why their research showed that face time around the dinner table with mom and dad had a much bigger impact on girls compared with boys, but this has proved to be the case in similar studies. Another report released by Eisenberg's team earlier this year showed that girls who eat meals with their families are also less likely to succumb to an eating disorder. Researchers suggest that it could be that girls are stronger in the area of interpersonal communication, while boys are more likely to bond through physical activity such as sports or playing games with family members.

It's mind-boggling to think about what families are competing against these days. In addition to all the activities children are encouraged -- or perhaps pressured -- to pursue, there is the constant 24/7 bombardment of messages from television, the Internet, cell phones and iPods, just to name a few.

At the same time, it's encouraging to see that despite all of the noise and interference, just a few dinners together as a family can really make a difference in a young person's life.

So, even if you don't have the best of relationships with your kids, keep working at it, and keep breaking bread together. The experts are telling you that you're on track. Stick to your guns, or, in this case, the mashed potatoes. Your efforts are paying off.

Teresa Tomeo is the host of Catholic Connection, produced by Ave Maria Radio and heard daily on EWTN Global Catholic Radio and Sirius Channel 160.