A new study finds that family meals are critical to lowering the risk of teenagers smoking cigarettes, drinking alcohol or abusing drugs. “Family meals are the strongest factor that we’ve come across in any activity that families do,” said William Doherty, a professor of family social science at the University of Minnesota. “It really tops them all as a predictor and contributor of a wide range of positive behavior.” Teenagers who only had fewer than three family dinners a week were almost four times more likely to try tobacco, more than twice as likely to use alcohol and 2.5 times more likely to use marijuana. The study was conducted by Columbia University’s National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse. Family dinners, especially for teenagers, convey a sense of unique belonging, security and stability. They also provide an opportunity for teenagers and parents to communicate. “So much of the rest of the day, kids, especially teens, are spending with their peers by themselves. They have a chance for talking and connecting at family dinners,” said Doherty.