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    Family-Sized New Year's Resolutions.

    When the new year begins, why not make a resolution to eat better as a family? You can keep good nutrition in mind as well as spend more quality time together at the table. And if you can make more of your meals a family event, experts say you may also be

    Comforts Kids, Improves Family Communication continued...

    "They may gripe about curfews, about telling parents where they are on weekends. But in our focus groups, it's clear that kids view things like this as expressions that parents care, that they love them. I think that's a big factor in keeping them from drugs," Califano says.

    A poll by the YMCA found that "not having enough time together" with their parents is a top concern among teenagers today. That poll also showed that children who never eat dinner with their families are 61% more likely than the average teen to get involved in negative activities.

    Kids who consistently have family dinnertime have better emotional health than other kids, says Michael Resnick, PhD, a sociologist and professor of pediatrics at the University of Minneapolis and director of the National Teen Pregnancy Prevention Research Center.

    His data come from the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health, a nationwide study of 20,000 young people in grades seven through 12. The study was conducted through the University of North Carolina in Chapel Hill.

    "Those kids were also less involved in risky behaviors, including substance abuse and interpersonal violence," Resnick tells WebMD.

    "The needs of young people don't magically stop when they turn a certain age," he says. "Many kids are skillful at giving the message that parents aren't important in their lives. The mistake is that we believe it. The findings from our study definitely show that kids value what their parents say and do."

    In fact, kids say they like family mealtime, he tells WebMD, "because they're always hungry, and because it's comforting to them to have food prepared. And they enjoy participating in that process. They feel competent; they feel a sense of mastery, like they've contributed to something. And kids say it's a time for the family to check in with each other."

    What Family Dinner Time Should Be -- and Shouldn't Be

    Dinner together doesn't have to be every night of the week. But when it happens, "it should not be a dumping ground for issues that have built up over the week," Resnick says. "Don't reprimand kids. Don't make conflict the focus, or kids will stay away. We're talking about connection and communication."

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