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VALPARAISO – Bringing families together around the table to enhance communication and prevent substance abuse by youths is the goal of a program recently implemented in Porter County.

The Around the Table initiative is designed to strengthen bonds between parents and children by providing resources that foster communication, said Kaye Frataccia, program manager for the initiative at EMPOWER Porter County.

Frataccia provided an overview of the program recently to parents, educators and social service professionals at the Family & Youth Services Bureau.

Around the Table is based on 18 years of studies by the National Center for Addiction and Substance Abuse at Columbia University, she said.

The studies found a link between the frequency of family dinners and lower rates of substance abuse, teen pregnancy and depression.

Children who had good communication with their parents also had higher grade-point averages and greater self-esteem.

“The food is the catalyst for bringing people together,” Frataccia said. “(Family meals) are a time when we can bond and connect.”

Kids want security and structure, so it’s important for parents to communicate clear family values and convictions, she said.

“They need to know where you stand on issues and what their family believes,” Frataccia said.

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She said parents have a “whole lot more power than they realize” to help their kids withstand peer pressure and make positive choices.

Parents who build close relationships with their children when they are young have a better chance of preventing their child from engaging in negative behaviors, Frataccia said.

“If you have an open line of communication and trust, the (child) will come back to you, because they really do want that structure and those guidelines,” she said.

Characteristics of strong families include: spending time together, communicating effectively, showing appreciation of one another, being committed to family, having good coping skills and having a clear set of family values.

Technology can be used to build relationships, and parents should keep up with the latest advances so they can interact with their child on platforms the child will be using.

It’s also important for parents to be good listeners and to ask open-ended questions to get children talking, Frataccia said.

Parents should refrain from judging, and offer kids tools for getting out of negative situations, she said.

“You be the resource instead of their peers,” Frataccia said.

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