Where there's smoke, there's often a teen playing with fire – a lit cigarette. If that teen happens to be yours, you may be clouted with emotions ranging from disappointment to rage to shock when you discover them smoking. Above all, you may be worried, because teen smokers are prone to turn into adult smokers. Teens can develop a nicotine addiction with alarming speed – sometimes in as little as several weeks. Many teen smokers assume they can stop whenever they choose, but few can easily kick the habit.
These are just several reasons why you need to intervene when you discover that your teen smokes. As angry as you may be, resist screaming at your teen. This will only teach them to try harder to avoid getting caught the next time they light up. And simply yelling at them and grounding them will not address the reasons why they smoke, and why you want them to stop.
Before you can open up the avenues for discussing your child's smoking, though, you need to be a good role model. As a parent, you have tremendous influence upon your teenager. If you're a smoker, it's going to be very difficult for your teen to take you seriously. Your actions will cancel out your words. When you smoke, you're telegraphing approval of the behavior. Children of smokers are more likely to become smokers themselves. It's crucial that you seek resources to help you break the habit.
Meanwhile, curb your smoking in the house, the car and in front of your child, and don't leave cigarettes where your teen could discover them. Explain why you're so displeased with your own smoking, and why it's vital that you quit.
While addressing your teen's smoking, forget about threats and ultimatums. Keep your cool, no matter how livid you are. If you freak out, your teen will focus on your fury, and be less likely to absorb your message. A conversation can quickly deteriorate into a battle, put your teen on the defensive and lose all focus. Remember, you are the adult. If you're so irate that you need time to approach the issue rationally, tell your teen, "I'm very angry right now. We'll talk about this later."
When you're ready to speak, discuss your teen's smoking – don't lecture. Many teens are dubious about opening up to their parents regarding smoking because they fear punishment. Put their mind at ease by balancing your disapproval with supportiveness and concern. Gain an understanding of their habit by calmly asking why they started smoking. Was it peer pressure? Teens are under enormous stress to fit in. Did they think it would help keep them calm? Maybe they thought it would make them appear cool or more grown up. Sometimes people smoke when they're depressed. Perhaps your teen has been experiencing emotional turbulence that you've been unaware of.
When you understand the root of your teen's habit, you can more effectively refute the reasons why they smoke. If other kids are pressuring them to puff, ask what kind of friends would want them to do something that could kill them. If they're smoking to keep calm, let them know that nicotine is actually a stimulant that raises their heart rate and blood pressure. And if they're depressed, you can help them find an understanding school counselor or therapist.
Ask your teen what they regard as disadvantages of smoking. Then let them know about the long-term consequences of the habit, such as cancer, heart attack, stroke and asthma. You can also provide them with pamphlets targeting teens – available in heath centers and hospital waiting rooms – that explain why cigarettes are unhealthy and lethal. You can even tell your teen about a relative or friend who died from a cigarette-related illness – without getting overly explicit.
Describe other drawbacks to smoking, such as bad breath, smelly hair and clothes, yellow teeth and fingernails, wrinkles, shortness of breath, brittle hair, reduced energy levels and a hacking cough.
Remind your teen that smoking is a pricy habit. Encourage them to do the math and compute the amount of money that smoking drains on a weekly, monthly or yearly basis. Compare this expense to the cost of games, clothing, and electronic gadgets that your teen enjoys – which would they rather have?
When you talk to your teen about giving up smoking, realize that they're probably already powerfully addicted. Quitting may take a long time, and may entail numerous attempts. No matter how rough the going gets, remain supportive of your teen's efforts to quit. You may want to start the process by having your teen list reasons why they want to stop smoking. By putting them in writing, they're more grounded in reality, and can help deflect temptation when it strikes.
Help your teen choose a quit date to aim for. Make sure it's not scheduled around a stressful time, like final exams. If you also smoke, make that your quit date, as well. This will help motivate your teen if they know they're not alone in their efforts. But brace yourself for relapses, particularly during the first week. It's common for smokers to resume smoking many times before they effectively quit. If your teen lapses, refrain from acting frustrated. Commend them for trying, let them know you understand how hard it is to quit, and always remain supportive of their efforts. Ensure they know you're available anytime they need to talk.
Understand that nicotine cravings are withdrawal symptoms that plague teens, as well as adults. You may want to consider providing your teen with nicotine replacement products such as nicotine patches, gums, inhalers or nasal sprays. Although these aids weren't created for teens, they may be beneficial in helping your teen handle the distress of nicotine withdrawal. Your teen's doctor can recommend the product that would be appropriate for them.
Your teen may benefit from the assistance of a smoking-cessation program. Go online to discover if organizations such as the American Lung Association have local branches that can aid your teen. There are also hospitals and local establishments that provide stop-smoking groups designed specifically for teens. You can find teen groups online, as well. These web-based programs offer the immediacy of assistance the instant your teen needs it.
And in the meantime, your teen's best defense against smoking is contained in five small but powerful words: "No thanks, I don't smoke."
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