Cause & Effect or Correlation?

That is the question.

They both have a lot in common but are easy to confuse.

This is evident in the December 1st Wall Street Journal article Why Dinners Don’t Fight Drugs by Carl Bialik. He reports about research on family dinners and their relationship to teen drug use and explains that study after study over the last decade has pointed to their positive effect on decreasing usage. He also tells us that now that relationship is being disputed.

New researchers who were skeptical about this “cause & effect” relationship decided to take a closer look. One researcher measured whether or not family-meal frequency affected academics or behavior, and he found it did not. Another researcher measured drug use directly and found no causal effect.

Dr. Miller, one of the researchers, points out that “family meals are valuable even if they don’t by themselves curb drug abuse. They might not be important in the way we typically talk about them, but that doesn’t mean they don’t have all sorts of benefits.”

Important to note is that when a study comes along and researches a particular activity as not causing another specific outcome, it is easy for readers of that study to say that this activity is not valuable at all, and maybe it is. Looking at it still another way, many different factors of an activity that also might not be causative could still be related in a positive way.

Family dinners in general correlate highly with all kinds of positive effects on children, and that is what is important. Here are some of the most well-known effects.

  • Communication – Perfect environment to promote that!
  • Language Development – Great time to socialize and talk a lot.
  • Family Bonding and Love – Wonderful opportunity to reap the rewards of “breaking bread” together.”
  • Good Nutrition – Set up well for promoting the presentation of quality foods.
  • Weight Control – Designed just right for having a set time to eat.

Research is research, and common sense is common sense; and sometimes they do not coincide. In addition, one person’s family dinners could be quite different from another’s, and the data would still be entered as a family dinner. In addition, even within one family, each dinner situation differs. Taking into account all these inconsistencies, you would still be hard-pressed to find too many family members who would not speak highly about this kind of shared time together..

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