The dangers of smoking are well-known. Over the years, medical research has proven time and time again that smokers are at higher risk for heart disease, cancer and a slew of other health problems. That said, generations of parents have all dealt with how to keep their teenagers from smoking. In this day and age, it's more important than ever to discuss the dangers of smoking with your child. Here are some tips on how to talk to your teen about smoking:
- Bring the subject up, because your teenager probably won't. Most teens don't feel comfortable talking about certain subjects with their parents--especially "bad" behaviors like smoking or drinking. It is your job to address these subjects with your teen--and you should start talking about it even before your child hits the teen years. Most schools host anti-tobacco and drug awareness programs each year, so when the program hits your child's school, jump on the opportunity to talk to your child about what she has learned.
- Discuss the risks. Teens think they are invincible--they really aren't thinking about the effects smoking will have on their bodies. You should tell your child about the damaging effects of smoking and you should do it in graphic detail. If a family member or friend is ill or has died of a smoking-related illness, tell your teen about it. Sometimes a harsh reality is all that it takes to set teens on the right track.
- Point out the other side effects. Teens seem to think that they are immune to disease, so tell your teen about side effects they really do care about. Yellow teeth, wrinkles, the awful smell of cigarette smoke in a smoker's hair or on his breath. And what about the cost of cigarettes? Have your teen add up how much it would cost them if they bought one pack of cigarettes a day--they could buy a lot of clothes or concert tickets with all of that money! Smoking is an expensive, addictive habit, so give your teen all of the grim details to try to steer them clear of ever trying it.
- Arm yourself with some backup material. Buy some books about teen smoking and have your teen look through them either alone or with you. Smoking 101: An Overview for Teens by Margaret Hyde and John Setaro and Teen Smoking: Understanding the Risks by Daniel McMillan are two books that outline the dangers of smoking in a way that teens can relate to.
- Use online resources. Teens can definitely relate to the Internet, so refer your teen to some important online sources that she can check out. Sites like No Tobacco have educational videos and motivational discussions, as well as tips for quitting smoking. Teens Against Tobacco Use (TATU) is a peer mentoring group that hosts groups in high schools across the country--and it's sponsored by the American Lung Association. The Truth is an anti-tobacco site that's loaded with teen-friendly imagery, facts about tobacco and learning tools, such as games. And if you're dealing with a teen who has already started smoking, GottaQuit.com is a site that will provide resources and motivation to help your teen quit the habit.
- Set a good example. If you are a smoker--even an occasional one--it's going to come off as hypocritical when you try to talk to your teen about the dangers of smoking. Sure, many smokers try to tell their kids about how bad smoking is and how they wish they had never started doing it, but actions speak louder than words. It's never too late to kick the habit yourself--and it will make your talks with your teen much more effective.