No parent wants their child to grow up to be a smoker, yet each day in our nation close to 4,000 kids under 18 years of age smoke their first cigarette (U.S. FDA). We may think we’re telling our kids not to smoke, but the message is obviously not always getting through.
The good news is that it’s never too late (or too early) to talk to your kids about the dangers of smoking. Toddlers, teens and all ages in-between can benefit from hearing consistent, thoughtful messages from parents and other influencers—relatives, neighbors, teachers, peers, other parents—about why never to pick up that first cigarette.
7 Talking Tips
While your child’s age will dictate how you broach the topic of not smoking, any of the techniques below may serve as a jumping off point.
- Leave the Lecture Behind. While it’s tempting to just lay down the law (“I better never catch you smoking.”) the reality is that kids benefit more from open discussion.
It’s your job to ask good questions, such as:
- “What do you think of people who smoke?”
- “Why do you think some kids your age try cigarettes even when they know it’s bad for them?”
- “What do you think you would do if someone offered you a cigarette?”
- Beat A Dead Horse. When it comes to talking about not smoking, once is not enough. Opportunities for discussions about smoking abound. For example, ask your kids what they think when you drive by a group of people huddled in an office doorway, puffing away in the rain or cold. Movies and TV frequently show characters smoking who appear glamorous.Engage your kids in conversation about why this glamorous image isn’t reality based.
- Hold A Problem-Prevention Talk. Help your teen or tween walk through exactly what they would say or do if they were at a party and someone offered them drugs, alcohol or a cigarette.Knowing ahead of time how to handle themselves makes a huge difference in a teen’s ability to say no. It’s a smart idea to hold these problem-prevention talks with your kids at an early age, around any topic.(“What would you do if your friend didn’t want to share her toys with you?”) That way, by the time the big talks roll around, your kids are comfortable with the process of talking through scenarios.
- Send Consistent Messages. They may (and will) deny it, but the fact is that kids like rules. Why? Everyone likes knowing what’s expected of us. It’s up to you as a parent to consistently state and enforce the rules of your home.If, for example, you threaten daily to take your child’s video games away if they don’t make their bed but never follow through, you’re sending the message that you say one thing but mean another. So when you tell your kids smoking isn’t allowed, how are they going to know if you really mean it?
- Point Out The Negatives. Don’t be shy about pointing out the ugly realities of smoking. Beyond the critical health-care risks of cancer, heart disease, and more, kids are often also motivated by factors like smelly breath, yellow teeth, skin that ages too fast and the fact that it is illegal for children and teens. Find some online “before and after” visuals to give your message a real “yuck” or “that’s gross” effect.
- Monitor Your Child’s Friends. A National Institute of Health study found that that the smoking behavior of a teen’s friends was the best predictor of whether or not a teen will start smoking.Reach out to other parents to make sure everyone is on the same page when it comes to a zero tolerance for smoking.
- Bolster Self-Esteem. A common misconception is that peer pressure is the primary culprit behind kids smoking. In fact, the internal pressure kids place on themselves to “fit in” is far worse. Kids can learn to withstand this internal pressure by building and practicing self-discipline and self-respect. Engage your child in activities that build self-esteem and there’s a far greater chance they’ll never take up smoking.
The above techniques are great for starting any conversation about not engaging in undesirable behaviors, but don’t limit yourself. There are numerous resources, such as RealParentsRealAnswers.com, that offer daily tips and advice on how to keep kids smoke free, using everything from parenting challenges to self-esteem building techniques. Additionally, ActiveParenting.com offers Online Parenting Classes which outlines parenting methods and techniques for children aged 5-12 and beyond.
And remember, the more people you can involve in sending the message to your kids that smoking is an unacceptable and undesirable behavior, the more likely your kids are to walk away.
Is talking to your kids a guarantee they’ll never try a cigarette? No. But not talking to your kids about smoking is almost a guarantee they’ll be more inclined to try it when the opportunity presents itself.