making a pot roast and setting the table

Sara Vanden Berge

The most important lesson weíve learned following the arrest of Al Gore III on drug charges is that the gas-efficient Toyota Prius can get you where you want to go in a hurry. Junior was reportedly flying down the San Diego freeway at about 100 mph before his recent arrest.

Running a close second in lessons learned from this incident is this: kiddies, donít do drugs. It will embarrass your parents if you get caught.

It might also, just for the record, fry your brain and land you in jail. And girls, pay close attention; drugs will also wreck your complexion in ways you can never imagine. No amount of makeup will help.

Iím not, of course, making light of this. Drug usage in this country is a serious issue. Every week I report on many of the drug arrests that occur in Erath County and Iím here to tell you that itís no fun being the messenger. Iíve had to write about children of friends and acquaintances who have been sucked into the drug world and Iíve seen the pain it causes families.

I also know kids on drugs arenít always the products of dysfunctional families or unhappy homes. Plenty of kids raised in stable environments dabble in drugs and get hooked. Before you know it, their mugs are in the newspaper and families, like the Gores, find themselves scrambling to deal with the situation.

As the Gore saga continues to unfold in the public arena, the famous family has taken shots from all sides. Big Al has been accused of spending too much time trying to save the earth and not enough time trying to save his son, while Tipper was busy trying to save Americaís teens from MTV.

Meanwhile, Junior is in rehab and parents the world over are trying to unravel the mystery of how to keep their kids clean and sober.

The answer, as it turns out, might be as close as your dining room table.

What we do know is that healthy family dynamics can help keep kids off drugs. Experts encourage families, especially those with teenagers, to gather around the dinner table at night at least five times a week.

According to the National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse at Columbia University, families who break bread together on a regular basis are less likely to smoke, drink or use drugs. As a bonus, they even get better grades than kids who rarely dine with their families.

The report, entitled, The Importance of Family Dinners III, states that teens who sit down to dinner with mom and dad are at a 70 percent lower risk for substance abuse, half as likely to use tobacco or marijuana, and one third less likely to try alcohol.

The report makes me want to stick a pot roast in the oven and set the table for five, which is what more of us should be doing.

Itís the table talk, the studyís authors say, that forges the relationship between parent and child and gives moms and dads insight into their teensí life.

So start talking and Bon appetit.