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How can you best handle this? Coming off as too strong and authoritative might invite "rebellion". Too lenient makes it seem okay.

What is the best response for driving home the dangers and risks of smoking, while getting your child to actually listen to you?

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Do you give them money? Cigarrettes are extremely expensive in the US, and illegal to purchase for under 18s. –  philosodad Mar 15 '13 at 0:01
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@philosodad I smoked before 18, did not get an allowance (I worked), and had little difficulty in purchasing cigarettes (despite it being illegal). Granted, packs were a fraction of what they cost now.... –  Beofett Mar 15 '13 at 0:04
    
that doesn't really help me to understand the specific relationship being asked about in the question. Neither parents nor teenagers are homogenous groups, and the answer to the question will depend on specifics. –  philosodad Mar 15 '13 at 0:36
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@philosodad It is entirely possible to answer this without knowing the specific relationship (in this case it is a hypothetical). Granted, not every solution will work for every teenager, but a good answer can apply to a wide range of situations. –  Beofett Mar 15 '13 at 0:40
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@philosodad As I said, this is a hypothetical, so if it helps you post an answer, decide for yourself whether a parent gives the teenager money :) –  Beofett Mar 15 '13 at 12:01
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5 Answers

up vote 7 down vote accepted

To build on Graham's answer:

  • Visit people who are dying due to: Lung cancer, Oral cancer, Emphysema, etc. I would guess your local hospital, if you're in a populated enough area, has a program for this purpose.
    • Talk about family members you may have lost due to smoking related illness, and how much you miss them. What life might be like if they hadn't smoked.
  • If you formerly smoked, be open and honest about when and why you started, how long you did, why you quit, and what your regrets are.

I think honesty is the best policy here. My explanation would go something like:

What are the pros?

  • Your peers, maybe someone that you want to be attracted to you, think you're "cool" or attractive. (The real irony is that later in life we (most of us, anyway) find smoking to be a non-starter; the ultimate unattractive habit!)
  • A buzz.
  • An ice-breaker ("got a light?", "want to go outside and burn one?")
  • Near-automatic acceptance to a social circle (particularly enticing in a new environment, such as your first year of high school or college, moving to a new town, etc)

What are the cons?

  • Decreased overall health (enjoy running, swimming, or biking? not for long!)
  • Waste of money (A pack a day, at $3/pack, costs you $1,000+ per year. Smoke for 20 years? That's $21,900.)
  • Chemical dependence (withdrawal, etc)
  • Extreme increase to your risk of at least 1-2 types of cancer, possibly more
  • As many people think smoking is gross + a turn off, if not more than the opposite
  • It is said that kissing a smoker is like licking an ashtray. That would limit your dating options.

"Is it worth $21k + extreme cancer risk + overal lower quality of life, to get a buzz? To look cool? Or for an excuse to say hello? Just say hi."

I guess this method relies a bit on teaching your kids pragmatism in all aspects of life, though.

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You'll also have your sense of smell and taste diminished significantly. Like food? Enjoy ash! –  Aarthi Nov 18 '11 at 15:38
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+1, although I'm not convinced warning them of the long term consequences (ie lung cancer) will do much good. They likely already know about the risks, but the consequences are too far in the future for them to believe it will affect them. –  Tom Jefferys Nov 18 '11 at 15:58
    
I added another contra argument. Feel free to revise/revert. –  Torben Gundtofte-Bruun Nov 19 '11 at 11:19
    
Meh. I knew all that, had my dad tell me about it, saw pictures of dead peoples lungs, watched my grandfather die of emphysema and cancer, and still smoked. Teens are idiots. kotaku.com.au/2010/06/… –  philosodad Mar 15 '13 at 0:51
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If there was an easy answer, there would be a website for it. I thought it was heartening that "Youth smokers make more attempts to quit smoking than adult smokers."

This may be why education is an important part of the solution. If their fear of the consequences is greater than the social rewards, it may be easier for them to quit. Unfortunately, the social rewards can be quite high.

Though I would be tempted to forbid them to smoke and forbid their friends too, this is likely to alienate them. As with any adult behaviour, now they have to deal with the consequences. It is their response to these natural consequences that will determine whether or not they continue since this started as a choice.

However, depending on their age, I would take more decisive action. For a younger child, I would treat this much more severely and invoke the aid of a counsellor, supervise their activities more closely so that they had less opportunity to engage in the behaviour, and make their teachers and the parents of their friends aware. For those parents that were not supportive of my concerns, I would not allow my child to be at their house or with their child unsupervised by someone I trust. In short, I would treat this as I would if they were doing any drug recreationally.

If my child were closer 18, maybe as young as 16, I would approach it in the same way I would approach any decision I thought was not in their best interest:

  1. ask them about why they made this choice, how it makes them feel, and why they do or do not want to continue. There are reasons why they started and these need to be addressed.
  2. inundate them with information on the effects of smoking and drug addiction. They need to be aware that this is a gateway drug and that making this choice will make it easier to make other risky choices that they might not have otherwise made.
  3. explain how their actions affect me and our family
  4. explain my expectations of their behaviour and negotiate reasonable parameters which essentially prevent non-smokers from being affected by (coming into contact with) their smoking
  5. encourage them to put limits on their habit and identify when they would consider it bad/too much and seek help
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+1 for the age-specific approaches, and for a list of specific reactions and discussion points! –  Torben Gundtofte-Bruun Nov 19 '11 at 11:13
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In addition to the other answers I'd like to offer up one that may seem simple but yet it can be extremely powerful especially if you feel your teen may be rebellious.

Obviously you can't tell a rebellious teenager not to do something. They will feel compelled to do it. But if you make it sound like it is they're decision to make and how disappointed you are in that decision then you have a chance of getting through.

I suggest talking to your child. Let them know that you are aware they are smoking, also let them know that you believe they are smart enough to know the consequences, and then finally express your disappointment in the decision they've made.

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Honestly, the best way to tell them is to show them what really happens to your lungs, your heart, your everything when you start smoking. I smoked in high school, ive been clean for about a year and a half. What got my to quit was seeing those pictures in my anatomy class in high school. Absolutly disgusting, and i swore to never pick up a cig again. Just show them what really happens.

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Take them to visit some terminal lung-cancer patients in hospital.

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-1 This doesn't work with adults. –  nGinius Nov 18 '11 at 14:02
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Also, the terminal patients are usually much older, and "rebellious youth" will likely not feel the pressing nature of the message. –  Aarthi Nov 18 '11 at 15:37
    
I can't imagine that you'd be allowed to just walk into a patient's room and point at him, saying Do you see him, son? Is there really any acceptable way of doing that? –  Torben Gundtofte-Bruun Nov 19 '11 at 11:15
    
I remember my 7th grade science teacher giving a lecture about the dangers of smoking. He pulled out 2 lungs - one of a healthy 40 year old, and one of a 40 year old that had been smoking two packs a day since they were 15. Our class had the fewest smokers at graduation. –  Darwy Nov 19 '11 at 21:59
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