Checklist to Help Kids Stay Off Drugs

Last week’s Family Legacy Planning email contained a quote that stirred up attention. Statistics show that having regular family dinners actually reduces the risk of kids turning to drugs. This finding is based on research at Columbia University’s “Partnership to End Addiction,” founded by Joe Califano.

The 18-year research project studied the link between the frequency of family dinners and teens’ substance abuse. Kids who have dinner with their parents at least 5 times a week are far less likely to smoke, drink, or use drugs. The risk of addiction increases dramatically for teens who have fewer than 3 family dinners per week. Califano explains that “the magic that happens at family dinners isn’t the food on the table, but the conversations and family engagement around the table… Family dinners are the perfect opportunity when teens can talk to their parents and parents can listen and learn.” Columbia’s research is summarized in the White Paper “The Importance of Family Dinners VIII” available here.

It’s important to start family dinners while the kids are young. The research revealed that “a child who gets through age 21 without using illegal drugs, abusing alcohol or smoking is virtually certain never to do so.”

Of course, there are no guarantees. However, it’s hard to ignore these powerful research findings. In her book How to Make Your Family Business Last, Mitzi Perdue provides this checklist for helping kids avoid substance abuse:

  • Be a good example.
  • Keep dangerous prescription drugs out of their reach (almost half of addictions start from the family medicine cabinet).
  • Teach kids early on that you consider substance abuse to be morally wrong and stupid.
  • Choose a middle school and a high school that enforces a drug-free policy.
  • Attend religious services (kids who do are 3 times less likely to smoke and drink).
  • HAVE DINNER TOGETHER at least 5 times a week.

I once attended an international conference for large Family Offices. They covered investing, tax planning, estate planning, educating heirs, but the one topic that received the most attention shocked me. It was substance abuse. Almost every family deals with addiction at some level. Consider adhering to these tips, especially the idea of regular family dinners. It’s certainly good food for thought, and perhaps the makings of a good New Year’s resolution!

Marvin E. Blum

The Blum family enjoying a Sunday brunch. Research shows that bonding at frequent family meals has lasting benefits, even helping keep kids off drugs.