The Carter family of Goose Creek knows it's important for families to eat dinner together.

They also know that's difficult for a busy family.

"Most weeknights, we are all going our separate ways," says Jennifer Carter, a mom of three. "At least one of the kids has an activity every day and my husband and I are out running them around."

Today is Family Day, a day to eat dinner with your children.

Celebrated annually on the fourth Monday in September, it is a national movement launched by the National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse at Columbia University in 2001 to remind parents of the importance of frequent family dinners.

Carter says she doesn't need a reminder to eat dinner with her family. She knows it's important, so she does what she can to make it happen.

"Dinner time is a great time for us to reconnect and talk about our day," she says. "Sometimes, we have a homecooked meal, but other times, it's just sandwiches or fast food after everyone gets home at night. It's not really about the food."

The national center's report, "The Importance of Family Dinners VI," bears out that fact.

According to the study, compared to teens who have frequent family dinners (five to seven per week), those who have infrequent family dinners (fewer than three per week) are more than twice as likely to say that they expect to try drugs in the future.

Those who have infrequent family dinners are also twice as likely to have used tobacco; almost twice as likely to have used alcohol; and one and a half times likelier to have used marijuana.

The report reveals that teens who have fewer than three family dinners a week are twice as likely to be able to get marijuana or prescription drugs (illegally) in an hour or less. Teens who have five or more family dinners per week are more likely to say that they do not have any access to marijuana and illegal prescription drugs.

"The message for parents couldn't be any clearer," says Kathleen Ferrigno, CASA's director of marketing who directs the Family Day initiative.

"With the recent rise in the number of Americans age 12 and older who are using drugs, it is more important than ever to sit down to dinner and engage your children in conversation about their lives, their friends, school. Just talk," she says. "Ask questions and really listen to their answers. The magic that happens over family dinners isn't the food on the table, but the communication and conversations around it."

This year, the survey found that 60 percent of teens report having dinner with their families at least five times a week, a number that has remained consistent over the past decade.

Eating dinner frequently with their parents is very or fairly important to 72 percent of teens, the survey showed.

Teens who have frequent family dinners are three times more likely to say they have an excellent relationship with their father, almost three times as likely to say they have an excellent relationship with their mother and more than twice as likely to say that their parents are very good at listening to them.

"We have long known that the more often children have dinner with their parents the less likely they are to smoke, drink or use drugs," says Joseph A. Califano Jr., CASA founder and chairman and former U.S. Secretary of Health, Education and Welfare.

"We can now confirm another positive effect of family dinners: That the more often teens have dinner with their parents, the more likely they are to report talking to their parents about what's going on in their lives," he says. "In today's busy and overscheduled world, taking the time to come together for dinner really makes a difference in a child's life."

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Brenda Rindge can be reached at 937-5713.