The Centers for Disease Control report that in 2005 some 23 percent of high school kids reported smoking cigarettes; in 2001, the number sat at almost 22 percent. The highest risk groups are Hispanic and Caucasian teens. Schools have instituted numerous programs that encourage smoking prevention as early as kindergarten and elementary school, but the odds are good that your teen will be offered a smoke by a peer anyways. While you want to believe that you have fortified your child with an ironclad conviction to wave the cancer stick away, the sudden smoky smell on your teen’s jacket will likely have you question if the good intentions paid off. When you find the teen’s very own stash of cigarettes, you know that the good intentions went up in smoke. Now what?
Look past the smoke. Low self esteem, parental smoking and peer pressure factor into the sudden uptake of the habit by teens. If you smoke at home, it is time to quit. Low self esteem is slow in the making and you may have missed the early warning signs; get more involved in the teen’s extracurricular activities and be sure to cheer her on consistently. Surreptitiously change the child’s peer group if you find that it influences the teen’s smoking. For example, enroll the teen in physical activities or artistic endeavors where smoking does not take place; she will gradually become too busy for her smoke-friendly peers.
Debunk the advertising myths. When cigarette advertising is aimed at adults, it highlights peer acceptance and leisure. When aimed at the teen market, it underscores the adult nature of the habit by emphasizing sophistication (for girls) and ruggedness (for boys). Intimating that smoking is a shortcut to adulthood, teens read into the tobacco ads the notion that maturity can be bought in a package. Counteract the advertising myths by praising the teen for the qualities s/he desires. Highlight a daughter’s budding sophistication as she displays it with her clothing choices, her ability to express herself and also in her superior intellect. Comment frequently on a son’s developing masculinity as he takes on leadership positions at home, school or in a volunteer setting, excels at stereotypically male endeavors and develops an outdoorsy streak.
Get ’em moving! Teens who are busy running track, swimming on a team, practicing self defense or perfecting gymnastics routines do not generally experience as much peer pressure to light up as their couch potato counterparts. In fact, becoming involved in one or more sports introduces junior to a group of youngsters that undoubtedly looks down on smoking as a filthy habit that inhibits athletic performance. Rather than just lecturing the teen on the adverse effects of smoking, go on the offensive and get the young smoker into sports.
Get help for the addiction. It is interesting to note that your teen most likely does not jump out of bed in the morning with the plan to be a smoker that day. If you catch on too late, the odds are good that the teen is already addicted, which requires a more thorough approach than the aforementioned steps designed to get the light or recent smoker off the habit. Smoking cessation programs for teens are specifically designed to help youngsters quit and deal with the effects of nicotine withdrawal. Remember to also get the family doctor involved, who may need to help mitigate some of the health effects the smoking might have already caused. Examples include a discoloration of the teeth, sallow skin tone or shortness of breath.
The famous cartoon methodology of dealing with teen smoking — having junior smoke a pack while dad looks on — does not work. It will make the teen sick and actually endangers his health significantly. Be sure to also keep the preaching to a minimum; this is especially true if you have already had the talk about the dangers of smoking and junior still went ahead to light one up.
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