A report released by the University of Michigan (read the summary or the abstract) reveals that, while boys do not see the same impact, middle school girls who regularly eat meals with their families are at a significantly reduce risk for negative behaviors. In the study of 800 middle school students, girls who ate meals with their family at least five times a week were half as likely to engage in substance abuse five years later.
The study doesn’t tackle the roots of the disparity or why boys did not demonstrate the same reduced substance abuse. Perhaps society’s heightened emphasis on social interaction for girls bears some role in the difference.
Regardless of this disparity, family meals are an example of how caring relationships with adults support healthy youth development and help young people make positive decisions. Family meals are one way of fostering a connection between youth and caring adults, but there are many more that can achieve similar impacts.