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We are a nation of movers and shakers. Our days are packed. Down time is a rare treat. We barely have a minute to waste.

For parents, schedules can be especially grueling. Between jobs, homework, sports activities, social gatherings and household chores, the to-do list never stops. “Go, go, go!” is the mantra of the day.

With more demands on our time than ever before, it’s no wonder that half of all Americans eat fast food at least once a week. On long, hectic days, it’s easy to just grab some food and get on with it.

It may be quick and convenient, but we sacrifice precious quality time with our families. Family dinners give us time to stop, relax and touch base with our loved ones. It provides an opportunity to connect with your spouse and find out what’s going on in your children’s lives.

Dinner conversations also provide protection from alcohol or other drug use in kids. Research from the National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse at Columbia University tells us kids that eat dinner with their families are significantly less likely to smoke, drink alcohol or use tobacco. In fact, teens that have less than three family dinners per week are twice as likely to use alcohol and nearly four times more likely to try drugs as kids who have five or more dinners.

Open communication brings families closer. The closer your family becomes, the more comfortable your kids will feel discussing difficult topics, like bullying, dating, relationships and of course substance use.

This puts you in a great position to get inside your kids’ heads and be a positive influence. If you don’t get into their ear, their friends will. And that may not be a good thing.

When those inevitable busy days come, try to find small opportunities throughout the day to talk with your kids. Maybe in the car on the way to school or before bed? Even a quick text message can keep you connected throughout the day.

It doesn’t matter when, where or how these conversations take place. The point is to engage with your kids. Let them know you’re there if they need to talk. You might be surprised the difference these little moments can make.

Need tips for talking with your children? Here are some age appropriate tips for great conversations.