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Celebrate dinner-time bonding on 'Family Day'

PROVO — Pull up your chair and pass the mashed potatoes: Monday is eat-with-your-family day.

Utah County has joined the national movement toward family unity for the second year, after the County Commission signed a proclamation to designate September 26 as "Family Day."

The goal of the day is to encourage families to spend the evening at the dinner table, talking, bonding and even preventing future drug use.

A national study by CASA, the national Center of Addiction and Substance Abuse at Columbia University published this month, found that teens who eat with their families are less likely to smoke cigarettes, try alcohol and smoke marijuana.

So CASA created "Family Day," and has been working to spread the message that drug prevention can start at home.

"We're not trying to tell parents, 'have dinner with your kids one day every year and things will be wonderful,' " said Richard Mulieri, CASA communications director. "It's the first day to do something that's going to become a routine in their lives."

The report showed that teens who eat dinner with their families less than three times a week are almost three times more likely to try marijuana than their peers, who spend more time eating at home.

Grades, quality of conversation and strength of parent-child relationships were also factors that improved as the frequency of family dinners increased.

"Having dinner with your family is kind of an American tradition that over the past 20 to 30 years has started to erode away as there are more demands on our time,' said Richard Nance, director of the Utah County Division of Substance Abuse. "It's just one thing that parents can do to hopefully start a pattern that . . . can go a long way in preventing drug and alcohol abuse."

This year is the fifth official family day. Since 2001, Mulieri said the idea has really taken hold, garnering support from large companies to small counties — even the Empire State Building in New York will light up in blue and red Monday, in honor of Family Day.

"More people are really taking heed of the message and gathering around . . . the dinner table," Mulieri said. "For something important enough, you find time. The important thing is to talk with your kids."

The proclamation, signed at the commission meeting last week, briefly outlines some of the study's findings and encourages parents to take an active role in their children's lives.

"Parental influence is known to be one of the most crucial factors determining the likelihood of substance abuse by teenagers," the proclamation states. "And family dinners have long constituted a substantial pillar of family life in America."

Salt Lake City and Salt Lake County have also signed similar proclamations for Family Day.