I think my thirteen-year-old smokes cigarettes. What should I do?

Parents become quite upset if they suspect their child has been smoking. Kids constantly hear that smoking is unhealthy. Many have urged their parents to quit: “I’ll never smoke! It’s ugly and bad for you!” “People who smoke cigarettes are stupid!”

But some kids change their minds when they hit early adolescence. Peer pressure, curiosity, and the media can make smoking seem attractive. Kids who smoke at these ages are often just experimenting. They force themselves to inhale, then cough, feel nauseous, and stop. That’s usually the end of it.

However, some thirteen-year-olds begin to habitually smoke. They may be children with difficult home lives, little interest in school or activities, and a weak identity. Or there may be less obvious reasons why they’re attracted to smoking.

Sometimes a child will talk at home about classmates who smoke: “Just don’t tell their parents.” A child who speaks often about smokers may be testing her parents’ reaction. She doesn’t realize that, while her parents may be only mildly interested in another youngster’s smoking, they would be furious if their child started.

Aside from a desire to experiment, kids these ages may smoke because they think it makes them seem “cooler” and older. Slick advertising campaigns tend to further this myth. A child may know about the health risks associated with tobacco, but she’ll smoke anyway because she doesn’t believe bad things will happen to her.

Young adolescents are focused on the here and now. They think, “Teenagers don’t get lung cancer.” The more support a young smoker has from her peers, the less likely she is to think about future problems.

If you find out your child has experimented with tobacco, express your firm disapproval, talk about the harmful effects, and then—if she’s stopped smoking—let the matter drop, although you need to keep a watchful eye on her.

However, if you suspect that your child is becoming a regular smoker, treat her habit as a serious problem. Verify her smoking by searching her room for cigarettes and matches. Most children don’t hide things very well. Confront her: “I smell smoke when you come in the house”. “I found a cigarette lighter in your jacket pocket.” If she lies, don’t accept what she says, even though you might prefer to avoid the issue.

Set firm limits and consequences: “I’m very angry and disappointed.” “You made a bad choice and I won’t accept it.” “Smoking at your age is terrible.” Take privileges and allowance away if you think that will be effective. Talk about the major risks of smoking, and about the other problems smoking causes, such as stained teeth, an unpleasant odor, and lack of wind for sports. These immediate effects might impress her more than long-range threats to her health.

If necessary, change some of your own behavior. Give up smoking. Spend more time with your child and work on creating a strong, positive relationship with her. Monitor her activities and friendships, and consider telling her friends’ parents about the problem. Be persistent—the temptation to smoke will only increase as your child moves through adolescence.

Picture Credit : Google