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Talking with CASAColumbia About Family Day

September 28, 2015 is CASAColumbia Family Day, a national movement to celebrate parental engagement as an effective tool to help keep America’s kids substance free. On Family Day, CASAColumbia encourages parents to engage with their children through sitting down to family dinner together. Here, President and CEO of CASAColumbia Samuel A. Ball, Ph.D. shares some of the history and philosophy behind Family Day.


Can you sum up the history of CASAColumbia® Family Day for us in just a few sentences?

CASAColumbia Family Day started out in 2001 as a grassroots initiative to inform parents about all the benefits of frequent family dinners. It quickly grew into a national movement that is supported by a network of partners and sponsors across the country. We continue to emphasize the importance of families eating meals together as one of many activities that promotes parental engagement throughout the day and year.

What is the significance of Family Day for CASAColumbia and its partners?

Substance abuse and addiction are major threats to the health of individuals and their families. They can strike any family regardless of ethnicity, affluence, age or gender. Although there are no silver bullets for prevention, parental engagement activities can promote the communication, support, and coping skills that reduce the risks for a range of problems, including substance abuse. Family Day enables CASAColumbia, with the support of our partners, to spread that message to parents across the country.

How can family dinners help prevent addiction and substance abuse?

Family dinners by themselves do not prevent these problems. The causes of substance abuse and addiction are very complex, and peer pressures that compete with family values increase as teens start spending more time with their friends and away from home. CASAColumbia’s report, The Importance of Family Dinners VIII, found that teens who had frequent family dinners (5 to 7 per week) were more likely to report having high-quality relationships with their parents. Families who eat meals together often do other positive activities together and communicate better, and all of these are associated with lower risks for smoking, drinking or using other drugs. But even parents who do everything right can have teenagers who abuse substances.

What is your best advice to parents and other caring adults who want to discuss difficult topics?

My advice relates to the three issues of “timing.” First, the type of difficult topic and the level of detail must be appropriate to the age and emotional maturity or stability of your child. It is important to not overwhelm a child with information or scare them, but gives them honest facts and opinions. Second, find the time during meals or other activities to make these difficult topics a regular part of the discussion. You want your children to always be comfortable talking about what bothers them or ask questions about difficult topics. Third, the time to discuss difficult topics is NOT when the difficult behavior is occurring. Let the strong emotions pass before sitting down and talking about your concerns and consequences.

What are the goals for this year’s Family Day and beyond?

Each year we strive to reach as many parents as we can with our message. The success of Family Day is defined by how many people support our initiative on a yearly basis. We look at how many First Spouses serve as Honorary Chairs of Family Day and how many Major League Baseball teams celebrate with Family Day games. Honorary Chairs promote Family Day in their local communities by sending out press releases, holding events, distributing materials and spreading the word using their social media pages. We also look at the number of non-profit groups, schools, faith-based organizations and community centers that order Family Day materials. The more materials we distribute, the more parents we reach with our message. We also reach out to parents through our website, our interactive Family Day Activity Kit, and our Family Day STAR Pledge. We engage with parents on our Facebook and Twitter pages.

In your opinion, what is the single best thing adults can do to help increase bonds with their children?

Coming up with a “single” answer is tough – parenting is the most complicated, scary, and fulfilling “job” you will ever have and it doesn’t end when they become adults! Maintaining an open line of communication definitely ranks in the top 5, and it is a skill that requires daily practice and can be hard to do at certain stages of development. This is especially true during adolescence when they are at risk of engaging in risky behavior including smoking, drinking or using other drugs – the kinds of things you want them to be talking with you about and asking for advice, but which doesn’t happen in many cases.

What is your favorite thing about family dinners? What is your biggest family dinner challenge currently (if you have one)?

My personal favorite is also one of our bigger challenges. I love when we get pictures from families or groups showing what they did on Family Day. The challenge is we don’t get enough of them. So, please send your photos!

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