1. Donnelly, Gloria F. PhD, RN, FAAN

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I never thought much about the power of routine family dinners until the National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse (CASA) at Columbia University released the findings of its study titled "The Importance of Family Dinners II."1 Having dinner with my parents every evening and with extended family at my grandmother's every Sunday was something I thought every family did.

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The family dinner was the "rehash" ritual of the day, where my parents asked about school experiences, my father talked about lessons learned during his workday, and my mother updated us on the "goings on" among extended family and neighbors. Some evenings I just listened as my parents problem-solved seemingly mundane issues like how to budget for the next car purchase; how to deal with the difficult next-door neighbor; or how to prepare and live through the next potential bus drivers' strike. I have vivid memories of the discussion that took place when I told my parents that I wanted to go to college to become a nurse. It was at the dinner table that my parents agreed that my mother should go back to work full-time to help ease the financial pressures that sending me to college would incur.


Perhaps, 40 or 50 years ago regular family dinners where experiences were shared and problems solved were the norm. However, the rise of the 2-income family and other pressures of modern family life eroded the practice of this crucially important family ritual. CASA's 10th annual survey of teens revealed an association between frequent family dining and lower rates of teen smoking, drug use, and drinking. Furthermore, teens experiencing more than 5 family dinners per week compared to those who had 2 or fewer family dinners were less likely to try marijuana, smoke cigarettes, or drink alcohol. Other findings suggest that teens having more than 5 family dinners per week are less likely to associate with drug-abusing classmates.1 Important topics, such as school and sports, friends, current events, and family problems, are discussed at the family dinner table. Teens who experienced more than 5 family dinners also reported feeling that their families were proud of them and that they would turn to a parent if they were having a serious problem. They also had better grades and better eating habits.


Constant caring human interaction, in this case through the daily family dinner, turns out to have powerful implications for future health. Caring human interaction is a cornerstone of holistic nursing practice. Whether at the family dinner table, in the clinic, or at the bedside, individuals need to have conversations about their issues and problems, their hopes and fears. Most often it is the nurse who takes the time to have these private, intimate conversations with patients and their families. The CASA findings give us all more food for thought about the importance of caring conversations.


Gloria F. Donnelly, PhD, RN, FAAN






1. CASA and TV Land/Nick at Nite report shows frequent family dinners cut teens' substance abuse risk in half. Available at: [Context Link]


Clarification: The correct order of authors for "The Effect of Yoga on Hypertensive Persons in Thailand," Holist Nurs Pract. 2005;19(4):173, is Urai Hatthakit, PhD, RN; Pratum Raknui, MS, RN; Payao Kasetsomboon, MS, RN; and Ruth McCaffrey, ND, APRN-BC.