CHESAPEAKE - Marijuana, liquor and cigarettes. What do they have to do with your family dinner? Experts say teens are less likely to indulge the more often families sit together at the dinner table.
"It's not just about dinner," CHKD Parent Educator Sam Fabian said. "It really is an opportunity for families to continue to build a family and know what it means to be a family, to reinforce their value system so when they do go out on their own, they're making sound decisions based on their family values and what they've learned around the table."
From 17 years of sweeping national surveys, the National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse (CASA) at Columbia University found teenagers who eat dinner with their family fewer than five times a week are four times more likely to smoke, twice as likely to drink alcohol and four times more likely to use drugs.
The research points out the benefits of family dinnertime to parents when it comes to raising their kids.
"If they can bring the family together on a regular, consistent basis, they can affect how they will behave the rest of their lives and what decisions they will make when they're faced with high-risk opportunities," Fabian said.
CASA's latest survey from 2012 also reveals 86 percent of American high school students say some classmates are "drugging, drinking and smoking during the school day and almost half know a student who sells drugs at their school."
36 percent says it is easy for students to use drugs, drink or smoke during the school day without getting caught.
Many say more active lifestyles -- including children's extra-curricular activities and sports teams - prevent families from having the traditional 6:00 p.m. dinner every night. Also, more and more parents are working longer hours and in many cases, more than one job.
All of that could take a toll, according to the track coach at Indian River Middle School in Chesapeake.
"You have kids who are reaching and they're looking for acceptance and looking for love," James Little said.
Fabian says when parents and children have dinner more often together, that love can show itself in terms of important conversations that allow families to further bond, connect, communicate, and know what's going on in each others' lives.
"Family provides a sense of safety, connection and consistency," Fabian said. "It's a free opportunity for parents to say I can make an impact with my family. Families need to reconnect because they are the staple of their child's success."
Other research shows family dinnertime and also benefit children with:
Improved grades and Achievement Test scores
Improved vocabulary and reading skills
Improved health -- not as likely to become overweight or obese