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How to Help a Teen Quit Smoking

Updated on March 11, 2013
Kids as young as 12 and 13 are lighting up on playgrounds
Kids as young as 12 and 13 are lighting up on playgrounds | Source

Teens and Smoking

© Roberta Kyle 2012, all rights reserved

It is no secret that cigarette smoking is the leading cause of preventable death in the United States. It is also no secret that something like 90% of adult smokers started before they were 18 years old. Some youngsters begin smoking cigarettes as young as 12 or 13.

Even more importantly, it has been pretty well demonstrated that the younger a person is when he or she begins to smoke, the more likelihood of total physical addiction there is. A recent study shows that teens who smoke occasionally can become addicted in as little as three weeks, while for adults it takes much longer.

We also know that a person who remains smoke free until the age of 21 is unlikely to ever become an addicted smoker. While we don't exactly know why, we do think it has to do with the effect of nicotine( the addictive component of tobacco) on neurotransmitters in the still growing and maturing adolescent brain.

How Parents Can Help

The best thing you can do as the parent of a teen age smoker is to set a good example by not smoking yourself. If you do smoke, quit! If you can't quit, don't smoke in your home or car and don't allow others to do so and don't leave cigarettes around where your teen can find them. Also, please don't issue commands or threats you are not prepared to carry out about your teen's smoking. As a smoker you are not on the high ground here. As a parent you are an authority figure to your children, so if you smoke, it is a tacit endorsement of the behavior. Don't be surprised if your teenager emulates what you do not what you say. Actions always speak louder than words, particularly where parenting is concerned.

But this is not about parents who smoke. It is about parents helping teens who smoke. The best thing you can do whether you are a smoker, non smoker or former smoker is to sit down for an honest heart to heart talk with your teen about smoking. Be prepared to listen. To be helpful to your child, you need to get inside his adolescent mind and know why he (or she) has decided to smoke. The important thing is to be open, curious and non judgemental. Do not preach or do an impassioned monologue on YOUR experience with smoking. Ask questions and listen, with an open mind, to the answers.

Do NOT offer advice or solutions unless specifically asked, and even then be very careful. . Just let the answers to your questions flow. Say something non-committal like " I see" or " that's interesting" and go on to the next question. If your child has questions for you, try to answer as briefly and honestly as you can, but don't, under any circumstances, let the focus shift from your teen's smoking to you and your behavior. Get right back to the questions.

If you listen carefully the answers will give you much information about how your teen thinks about smoking. You will get an idea of whether or not quitting is a realistic possibility and you will know what arguements to pursue to help your teen reach a decision to quit.

For a young, adolescent smoker, the cost of smoking carries a lot more weight than the idea of chronic illness or premature death. You might want to do the math and point out that you will not be paying for your child's cigarettes. Other examples will come to your mind as you think about your child's answers to your questions and the conversation in general.


Communication is Key

If you listen, no matter how naive and ill informed you think your child is, you will get an idea of what his or her driving personal motive for smoking is. Is it a social thing? Is it to appear hip or cool? .... or older? Is it to handle stress or tamp down unpleasant emotions?

Whatever the emotional message under the words, listening will encourage bonding on both your parts and help you prepare supportive arguments and really helpful advice for quitting to be filed away for use at a later date. Here is a list of questions you might want to ask in order to get a handle on your teen's smoking and the motivations for it.

  1. Why do you smoke?
  2. When did you start smoking and why did you start?
  3. How does smoking make you feel?
  4. How much do you smoke per week, per day?
  5. Do you smoke only in social situations( cigar lounges,hookah bars, at parties) or also when you are alone ( studying, driving in the care etc.)
  6. Do you buy cigarettes( tobacco ,rolling papers etc.) and if not how do you get your supplies?
  7. Do you have any unpleasant effects from smoking like shortness of breath or smelly clothes and hair?
  8. Do you get cravings for a smoke and have you ever tried to stop?
  9. Have any of your friends who smoke tried to stop or succeeded at doing so?
  10. Do many of your friends smoke?

The specific questions vary from personal situation to personal situation, but the general idea is to keep it neutral and to listen. You are on a fact finding mission, a scouting mission. Do not go into parental attack mode It won't work and it will make it impossible for you to be helpful at a later date, when your teen realizes he is trapped in nicotine addiction and really wants to quit.

Quitting Smoking

If your child shows any interest in quitting at all, you might want to help by exploring the possibilities and letting him know you are supportive and stand ready to help. If you are an ex smoker, you can share your own experience here. In any case, you can be a cheering section You cannot quit for your child, but you can let him know that you care.

I have one friend whose father offered her $1000 for her 21srt birthday if she would quit smoking and not smoke until she was 21. She was sixteen at the time and $1000 seemed like a big prize. She went for it and by the time she was 21 found that smoking was no longer a temptation. You may not want to go that far, but human nature being what it is, cash is a powerful motivator, and by keeping her part of the bargain, my friend actually earned her reward.

Whatever way you choose to help, know that caring, supportive parents are a major factor in helping teenagers negotiate the pitfalls of addiction to nicotine. Just knowing you care and are there will make a big difference.

So, if your teenager is smoking, don't ignore it. Don't pretend it isn't there. Remember that a huge percentage of teens that experiment with tobacco get hooked on nicotine and go on to become regular adult smokers. Your teen needs to know the reality of addiction and while you can't quit for your teen, you can provide information. As the old saying goes-- you can lead a horse to water but you can't make him drink BUT you can be sure the horse is thirsty when you get to the stream.

Check out the links below for starters. Then, bring the issue out into the open. Sit down and have that talk about smoking in an open and honest way. The worst thing you can do is bury your head in the sand and pretend that your teen is not smoking. If you think he is, than you are probably right. Bring your concerns out in the open and talk about them. That is the first step to getting your teen to even think about quitting.


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