Monday, August 31, 2009

Blue Bottle Bushes

In a magazine belonging to my 17-year-old daughter, I found the following. A certain national center at a major university, after more than a decade of research, has found that "the more often kids eat dinner with their families, the less likely they are to smoke, drink, or use drugs." The center has therefore launched a national "movement" to remind parents to make family dinners a frequent occurrence and to remind children to eat with their families. Now what's wrong with this?

In one way, nothing much. But in another, a lot, actually. It's an example of a logical fallacy, which pretty much hangs around everywhere, pretending to be science. So . . . if kids eat enough meals with their families, they won't do drugs? COME ON!

The proper statement of the case, of course, is: "Children who don't smoke, drink, or do drugs are more likely to eat frequent meals at home with their families"--not the other way around. In other words, the parents of such children have created loving, stable environments that deter rebellious behavior.

I don't believe that by merely eating meals with their children, parents can somehow ward off bad habits. That's just plain, old superstition. I'd much rather believe we could hang blue bottles in the bushes* to keep the drinking-and-drug-use haints away from the little ones. That's at least an imaginative, colorful solution. (*A voodoo belief: if you put blue bottles on the bushes outside your house, a haunting spirit must enter every bottle before entering the house, thus giving you time to get past him to safety inside.)

There's certainly nothing wrong with encouraging parents to eat with their children or children with their parents. But let's not kid ourselves. Parents that have to be encouraged to do this are not likely to take our advice too seriously.

Besides, did we really need a decade of research to arrive at a fallacious conclusion?

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