A national campaign to ‘Turn Friday Night into Family Night,’ and encourage American parents to spend Friday nights at home and give their children one uninterrupted night—focused on them—without the distraction of TV, iPods, DVDs, the telephone, or anything else. Research indicates the importance of regular family meals is invaluable on a number of levels.
The election of Barack Obama provides a unique opportunity to bring three generations of family together under the White House roof, as it was recently announced that Michelle Obama’s mother, Marian Robinson, will be living together with the Obamas. After a grueling two-year campaign on the road such family togetherness, even while involving one’s mother-in-law, will be a welcome respite for the President-elect.
The process of restoring some semblance of normalcy to the Obama family’s routine will include a focus on a fundamental family tenant often overlooked within contemporary American society: gathering together as a family for dinner. As a November 6, 2008 New York Times article noted, “(Obama’s) election will help realize a long-held, cherished family dream: For the next four years, the Obamas will finally eat dinner together.”
It has long been my dream to establish a national campaign to ‘Turn Friday Night into Family Night,’ and encourage American parents to spend Friday nights at home and give their children one uninterrupted night—focused on them—without the distraction of TV, iPods, DVDs, the telephone, or anything else. Research indicates the importance of regular family meals is invaluable on a number of levels.
Recent studies by The National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse at Columbia University and the University of Minnesota School of Public Health found that: compared to teens that have frequent family dinners, those who rarely have family dinners are 3.5 times more likely to have abused prescription drugs or an illegal drug other than marijuana. Moreover, girls who have five or more meals a week with their families are one-third less likely to develop unhealthy eating habits, which can range from skipping meals to full-fledged anorexia or abusing diet pills. Researchers at Columbia also found that teenagers who have infrequent family dinners (two or fewer per week) are twice as likely to smoke daily and get drunk monthly, compared with teens who have frequent family dinners (at least five per week). Despite the compelling research findings, for many families eating dinner together is a rarity often performed in front of the television.
Research by the University of Minnesota indicates that the past twenty years have seen a 33 percent decline in the number of families who eat dinner together regularly. A 2003 survey conducted by ConAgra Foods found that 40 percent of American families eat dinner together three times a week at best, with 10 percent never eating dinner together. The National Pork Board and Kraft Foods released a survey of 1,045 moms, conducted by Impulse Research, which revealed that the average family spends only 26 minutes eating together (27% of families spend less than 20 minutes eating dinner together) and only 39 percent of moms said their families turn off the TV during mealtime while even fewer families (30%) refuse to answer the phone during dinner.
My dream, which will be the primary mission of The Values Network organization in 2009, involves a 2/2/2 theme: two hours of family togetherness consisting of two guests with two subjects for discussion. A weekly curriculum for families will be published via website and will include topics for discussion and quizzes that parents can give their children to increase knowledge and foster conversations. This initiative has already been discussed with Rachel Hunter, and other celebrities who are open about family chaos in their background. We are asking them to take part in fronting a national campaign on TV, radio, the internet, and print media to encourage families to sign on with the project. The President-elect has written movingly in his memoir ‘Dreams of My Father’ of the pain of not having had a relationship with his own father. This is thus the perfect time to launch such a campaign that would be a step forward to healing the American family. A related idea would be to create a national lottery of parents who agree to at least one dinner a week with their kids. On a monthly basis, families who participate in turning Friday night into family night would be chosen from the lottery to have dinner with the President and his family in the White House.
But even without the President-elect’s participation, this is something by which every parent should make a concerted effort in order to give American children the attention they desperately need to grow up feeling loved and secure. As the ConAgra Foods study demonstrated, 88 percent of families would like to increase the time spent with their family at the dinner table. With the help of a few dedicated celebrities and, ideally, the President-elect, our collective dream can and will become a reality.