Getting Your Teen to Stop Smoking

Our 11-year-old admitted to smoking after dad found ashes on the coffee table. Dad smokes outside, and for the past couple of weeks my son has been emptying the ashtray, which seemed harmless enough. We thought he was just being nice. I asked the boy after Dad began to get suspicious. Our son told the truth and said he had tried a few of the cigarette butts. What should we do?

--A Parent Soup member
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Robert Schwebel

Clinical psychologist Robert Schwebel, PhD, has been in private practice for almost 30 years, counseling children, couples and... Read more

I want to reassure you. At least 70 percent of adolescents try smoking. It is not at all unusual. The tobacco industry has been aiming its $6-billion-a-year advertising and promotional programs at our children. It certainly does not help that your husband smokes. Perhaps your son's interest in tobacco can be an incentive for your husband to try to beat this dangerous habit.

Now, I want to encourage you to take action. It is important to talk with children about tobacco. First, I praise you for having created the sort of family climate in which your 11-year-old son could admit he had tried this drug. I think you should praise your son for his honesty. Then, let the discussion begin!

You could say that as his parent(s) you feel it is important to talk openly and honestly about tobacco. Give your son a chance to say what he thinks and feels about it. Ask him what he thought of his smoking experience. (He may have gagged and hated it.) Then tell him what you think and feel. Your best chance to influence his behavior is not by setting rules and making threats so much as by engaging his mind, raising his consciousness and helping him develop good judgment. Of course, discuss the dangers of tobacco with him.

Then ask him about its appeal. He might say: "It looks cool," or "It is a way to fit in with friends," or "I was just curious." Then, help him think twice about these thoughts. For example:
* "Yes, you can fit in, but look at the cost. Maybe we can help you learn other ways to be comfortable with peers."
* "I can understand your curiosity, but it is dangerous. You have tried it, and I hope you will stop right now. People start with a smoke or two. Then they try it a little more and a little more. They think they are just dabbling. Next thing you know, they are surprised that they smoke so much. They get addicted."
* He may say: "But Dad smokes." I would say Dad made a terrible error and got addicted to this dangerous drug. We do not want you repeating that same mistake. Hopefully, Dad can say this too.

Tobacco and other drugs are all around us in this society. It is important that we raise children who can meet their needs without drugs. We need to discuss drugs with our children. When we first learn of tobacco or any drug experimentation, we should not hit the roof. Then kids simply start lying to us. We need to continue our discussion with them and raise their consciousness, so they learn to make smart decisions of their own and avoid the blight of addiction.

I recommend you take a look at my book Saying No Is Not Enough: Helping Your Kids Make Wise Decisions About Alcohol, Tobacco, and Other Drugs".

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