My 12-year-old is smoking. He has been living with his father, who turns a blind eye, for just over 3 years. He will be returning to live with me shortly.

He was encouraged by his father to go and live with him since we broke up (since he was 3/4 years old). I was blamed for the break up, so there was a lot of resentment toward me. The short version to this sad situation is that he has continued to undermine any discipline and boundaries I put in place. Our relationship broke down. And for a long time he thought I didn't care, despite me asking him to come home. He has gotten into trouble with the police, drinking, smoking, and is sexually active. And his father patted him on the back - "that's my boy".

I talk through any issues with my sons, and I also understand that they're growing up and so I realise that I have to try to act accordingly. I am shocked by these recent revelations, ashamed that all this was going on, not knowing about it. I live about 50 miles away from his father. My son doesn't want to live in the city where I am, so I am looking to move back, so then he will come back to me.

If anyone can help, I would like some advise on how to deal with this please.

  • 4
    Welcome to the site, Debbie. Could you provide a bit more detail than this? In particular, how do you normally handle discipline situations in your household with your son? Where is he getting the cigarettes from - his father, a friend, or somewhere else? Have you spoken with him yet about the subject, and if so, what was the result?
    – Joe
    Apr 22, 2015 at 19:01
  • 2
    at 12 years old I would guess they aren't a heavy smoker unless they have a source that can and always will provide them with cigarettes. Some parents will buy their kids cigarettes, hopefully not your boy's father but we don't know that. If they're light smokers, like they get them from their friends every now and then, the difficulty in quitting might be as easy as encouraging a recreation they love doing that takes their minds off smoking, like rock climbing for example. Some physical thing that requires good respiration to do well. Banning it outright just means they'll smoke elsewhere.
    – Kai Qing
    Apr 22, 2015 at 21:40
  • 1
    He has been st his fathers for just over 3 yrs. He was encouraged by his father to go and live with him since we broke up ( since he was 3/4 years old. I was blamed for the break up. So there was alot of resentment toward me, the short version to this sad situation, is that he has continued to undermine any disipline and boundaries i put in place. Our relationship broke down. And for a long time thought i didnt care despite me asking him to come home. He has gotten into trouble with the police, drinking , smoking , and is sexualy active. and he's patted him on the back . " thats my boy"
    – Debbie
    Apr 23, 2015 at 7:20
  • 2
    Debbie, you could greatly improve you post if you would edit your question with all these details here in the comment section. Just click on "edit" and you can copy-paste what you need.
    – Stephie
    Apr 23, 2015 at 14:58
  • 2
    You say in your question he WILL be coming to live with you shortly, but in comments you say you HOPE he will choose to come live with you if you move closer to his dad. It doesn't sound like you're in a very strong position with him. Do you have legal support to have him be with you? Otherwise even if he does choose to try living with you, you'll be in a very weak position as far as having stricter rules than his dad. I'm guessing it would be difficult (maybe impossible) to talk to his dad about it, but maybe if you can find out from dad why he thinks these behaviors are good (cont)
    – MAA
    Aug 8, 2017 at 0:14

7 Answers 7


Set the ground rules that you won't tolerate it under your roof and why. Give clear set levels of consequences should they be caught. Don't make overly broad consequences and don't make them so inconsequential that your child won't care. Above all make the consequences enforceable. Have them written down and have your child sign to them as an acknowledgement.

Do you smoke? That will affect how well they will take this rule from you. Saying I don't want you to smoke because it's bad for you and then smoking yourself isn't very effective. If you do smoke, talk to your child about why you started and why you continue to. Talk to them about how it has affected your health and use it to highlight how bad it is for them.

Even if you don't smoke, ask them why they started to smoke and how it makes them feel. Is it social? Is it stress? Is this the only self destructive behavior they have? Ask them how it feels to not be able to breathe well and let them know this is related to the smoking. Validate their feelings by listening and don't just brush them off as juvenile. Sure the reasons may sound stupid, but to your child they are not.

Take them to a pediatrician and have a group chat about smoking and the affects of smoking. You are going to have to show your child that smoking is harming them, they won't care if you just tell them. You will also need to deal with their withdrawal or they won't be able to quit. So see if the Dr can discuss quitting. Quitting is more complicated than just "I said not to smoke so don't". There can be social, physical, and emotional reasons why your child started and continues to smoke. The physical is possibly less if it's more of the level that they smoke at school with their friends. If it's a daily half a pack + per day type habit the physical will be greater.

Overall be firm, try to be understanding that it may not stop overnight, and be prepared to follow through with consequences.

  • 1
    No offense but while this is very practical I doubt it is relevant at this stage. Debbie isn't in a textbook world and due to divorce and other complicated issues does not appear to be in a position of authority over her son. Your advice will be good I believe if she can first re-establish a solid relationship with her son where he accepts her role as a mother and authority figure. His consent is imperative to success in this situation.
    – Adam Heeg
    Nov 13, 2019 at 14:30

Find a good family therapist, if possible before he arrives. Pick your battles -- pick three rules that matter the most to you, and stick to them.

Discipline works best when it is built on a strong relationship. That will take time. You don't have to pretend you're happy about all these self-destructive habits he's gotten into, but on the other hand, you don't want your home to be an armed camp. Try to find some common ground between the two of you, find ways to enjoy each other's company. You will build your relationship with each other step by step.

When he's ready to quit smoking, make sure he has medical support, to minimize the discomfort of withdrawal.

  • 1
    I agree that the first step is building a strong relationship. Everything else will fail miserably without this.
    – Adam Heeg
    Nov 13, 2019 at 14:31

Smoking is an inherently selfish endeavour. If a person gets drunk he may get aggressive and punch you but for the most part alcoholics only kill themselves through their drinking. Smoking never only affects smokers, it also always affects the people around them. If everyone in the house thinks smoking is fine then I guess it can continue. It is clear that it bothers you, so what now?

Make it clear to the child that you as the parent do not have to endure this from your child. At the very least he should always smoke outside. You are not going to buy him the cigarettes and you expect that if he wants to smoke he has to do it where it does not affect his mother. You may very well be powerless to stop this but you do not have to enable this behaviour in any way.

When your son lives on his own and pays his own dues then he can live in his house in a manner he sees fit but as long as the hotel provides free board and lodging there should remain some conditions.

Also, his father letting him smoke is a real problem. In most countries it is illegal for children to smoke, you owe it to yourself to inform the relevant social worker of what is happening

  • 2
    I don't know any alcoholics, but I was under the impression that it can have quite a negative effect on friends and family...
    – Mark
    Aug 11, 2017 at 13:55
  • 1
    I think all the battered partners of drunks will disagree on the death toll from alcohol.
    – WendyG
    Nov 13, 2019 at 10:26

He has gotten into trouble with the police, drinking, smoking, and is sexually active. And his father patted him on the back - "that's my boy".

A sexually active 12 year old? I don't think he can legally consent at that age. I'd get some counseling professionals involved.

  • 1
    What if his partner was also 12 years old? May 15, 2018 at 17:10
  • 2
    Then the partner might not have consented. Precocious sexual activity can be sign of abuse. Someone professional needs to get in there and figure out what's going on.
    – swbarnes2
    May 15, 2018 at 17:14

The specifics for dealing with the smoking habit are, I think, pretty obvious and covered elsewhere. That will be relatively easy.

The hard part will be in asserting your authority when he returns. Presumably he can always go back to live with Dad and he will use this against you. He'll know you don't want that and you've gone out of your way to woo him and he will without any doubt use this as leverage to get what he wants from you.

You need to address this with him right from the start. He needs to understand the limits and believe the limits... and this means you have to mean it. They can't just be words you say hoping to convince him. You absolutely must mean it. "You want to go live with Dad again and do whatever you want? There's the door. I've gone out of my way to make it easy for you to come live with me but it's a one-time deal. I have hard limits that you must respect. You can leave but there is no coming back."

I can't really imagine any tougher law to lay down than this but I'd look at it this way: If you can't enforce the law then he's really no better with you than at his father's place.

Kids like the comfort that comes with clear boundaries even if they don't like the boundaries themselves. With a bit of time, I expect he'll feel that even if he doesn't quite realize why.

  • 1
    "You can leave but there is no coming back." I understand that you mean for the consequences to be serious. However, saying that without qualifications is not only really painful to a 12 yo, but there should be some room for mercy. If he then stops smoking, drinking and getting into trouble, can he come back then? Or if he is abused by his father - it's not so promising a situation already - or needs a place to go after rehab? There are all kinds of possibilities that make this particular threat a bad one, especially when he has a lot of growing up yet to do. :-)
    – anongoodnurse
    Apr 23, 2015 at 22:02
  • There is absolutely room for change down the line if there is a change in situation, or even if there isn't but truly regrets the choice. The point is only so that he doesn't think he can flip back and forth to get what he wants, playing one parent against the other. Apr 23, 2015 at 23:36
  • I wouldn't even put the option of letting him live elsewhere during your time. That's giving up - parents don't give up. He doesn't make the rules, you do and it's the parent's responsibility to teach and mentor no matter the extent. You can always get adjust an approach when he's there, but you can't change your approach when he's gone.
    – user24631
    Jul 8, 2017 at 5:58

I started smoking at 12 and quit when I was 18. My father tried demanding I change my behavior, going so far as to threaten me with being kicked out if I didn't change. I called his bluff and moved out at 15. From that point on he focused more on letting me know he cared for me, in spite of my behaviors, without trying to control me. I made some bad choices, but once I became an adult, the relationship mended and I now have a great relationship with him.

Since you are starting off without established parental authority, you need to step into the rules gradually. For example, no smoking, sex or drinking in your house because [the impact to you]... Make sure he understands how it affects you, but also acknowledge you can't stop him from doing it other places. Even set up a small, reasonably comfortable smoking area outside your home.

At that age, he can't separate his actions from his identity... he is a smoker, he is a drinker, etc. Trying to eliminate those behaviors will feel like a rejection of his person. You need to work on building a relationship with him, not as a friend, but as a parent with his best interest in mind. He first needs to feel (not just told) he is loved and valued before he will believe you are actually on his side. Instituting rules without a solid relationship will lead him to rebel. If he feels you are not accepting him or that you are trying to change him, he will reject you and everything you stand for.


Well, if you cannot get him to quit I recommend getting him an E Cigarette. That way he may smoke privately in his room without destroying his lungs. Smoking or vaping is not legal at his age unless he needs it. He will need the nicotine and as a former smoker I will say he'll be easily angered and won't do well emotionally. I'm just recommending. But get a therapist too.

  • 1
    I think getting him an E Cig is bad advice. That's not actually solving anything, it's more like giving up on the not-smoking stance. It basically tells him that it's all right for him to smoke - it's just the peculiars that mom objects to, not the smoking itself. Jul 5, 2017 at 19:37

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.