Family Dinners of All Flavors

Kara Powell | Oct 3, 2011

We at FYI are big fans of family dinners. As folks who care about research, we are continually struck by the powerful effects of families having dinners together. According to a 2009 study by The National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse at Columbia University, teens who have infrequent family dinners are twice as likely to use tobacco or marijuana, and more than 1.5 times more likely to use alcohol.

Having said that, it’s not just enough to be sitting around the same table at mealtime. We have to be focused on our families, free from the distractions of technology. Teens who have infrequent family dinners AND whose families dinners are pervaded by cell phones, laptops, and video games have even higher rates of risk behavior. They are three times more likely to use tobacco and marijuana and 2.5 times more likely to use alcohol.

As a mom of three kids (all of whom have soccer practices, two of whom have music lessons, and two of whom are involved in Boy/Girl Scouts), I know it can be very challenging to gather the family for dinner. And sometimes when we sit down, I’m so focused on what our family needs to do after dinner that I’m trying to rush us.

That’s why I was both convicted and encouraged by yesterday’s New York Times Magazine feature on family dinner. In these 16 pictures of families having dinner, we see the wonderful variety of families here in the U.S., and get a taste of the unique flavors that culture, personality, and geography brings to the family dinner ritual.

What are you doing for dinner tonight? How can it be more meaningful for your family? The author of the New York Times feature tries to have dinner with his family one day week. What might your goal be? If you’re a youth leader, how and when can you communicate this research to the parents in your church?

Kara Powell

Dr. Kara Powell is the Executive Director of the Fuller Youth Institute (FYI), a faculty member at Fuller Theological Seminary, and Fuller's Chief of Leadership Formation. Named by Christianity Today as one of “50 Women You Should Know,” Kara serves as a Youth and Family Strategist for Orange, and also speaks regularly at parenting and leadership conferences. Kara is the author or coauthor of a number of books, including Growing Young, Growing With, The Sticky Faith Guide for Your Family, Sticky Faith Curriculum, Can I Ask That?, Deep Justice Journeys, Deep Justice in a Broken World, Deep Ministry in a Shallow World, and the Good Sex Youth Ministry Curriculum. Kara lives with her husband Dave and their three children, Nathan, Krista, and Jessica, in Southern California.


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