Families urged to eat together

DALLAS — Dawn McMullan juggles the family schedule around league sports for her 9-year-old, rock-climbing for her 12-year-old, her husband's bank job, her work as a freelance writer, and church, school, social and volunteer activities.

When Noah's rock-climbing coach suggested extending practices to 7:30 p.m., she reached her breaking point. She responded with a family challenge: Commit to eating at least one meal together every day over the next year.

McMullan, who lives in East Dallas, writes about her family's commitment on a Web blog — — and hopes to inspire others to come back to the table.

At Mount Hebron Missionary Baptist Church in Garland, Texas, the Rev. Leonard O. Leach is on a similar mission. He wants families to eat together more frequently — and he stresses that the electronics be turned off. He thinks it will be tough, but says it's imperative for parents who want to raise healthy, happy, confident children.

Studies by the National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse have consistently found that teens who have frequent family dinners (five to seven per week) are less likely to smoke, do drugs and drink, and are more likely to have better grades, go to religious services and have good relationships with their parents.

Eliminating the dinner distractions makes a difference, according to the center's survey released this fall.

The survey found that teens who have fewer than three family dinners a week are twice as likely to use tobacco or marijuana, and more than 1 1/2 times likelier to use alcohol. The results are worse among teens who have infrequent family dinners and when people at the table use cell phones, BlackBerries, laptops or Game Boys.

Those teens are three times likelier to smoke pot and tobacco, and 2 1/2 times likelier to use alcohol.