The teen years bring plenty of changes for students, as well as new worries for parents. Smoking is at the top of that list for many parents. Every day in the U.S., approximately 3,600 children between the ages of 12 and 17 start smoking cigarettes, according to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC). That number has plenty of parents looking for ways to help keep their children from starting, too.
There are a number of influences that get young people to start smoking, including:
- Having friends, peers or parents who use tobacco.
- Linking smoking with a positive social image and bonding with a peer group.
- Seeing tobacco use as a transition to adulthood.
- Underestimating the health consequences of tobacco use.
- Not understanding that the nicotine in tobacco is addictive.
- Low self-esteem.
- Lacking skills to resist influences.
What keeps kids and teens from smoking? One of the biggest influencers is having strong parental support. Having conversations about the issue really does have an impact on teens' decisions about tobacco use. Here are some tips for talking to your teen:
Keep the lines of communication open. Talk on a regular basis. The more you talk about a wide range of issues with your child, the easier it is to talk about specific topics such as tobacco. In general conversation, emphasize all the things your child does well rather than things they don't do well. And demonstrate respect for your child's opinions. Show you're listening and ask follow-up questions.
Talk, don't lecture. Discussions will be received far better than a monologue from you. Here are some conversation starters:
- "I understand you've been talking in school about peer pressure and the health consequences of tobacco use. Tell me about some of the things you've learned."
- If you see smoking portrayed in the media, say "I wonder why the director had that guy light up a cigarette in the last scene. What do you think?"
- If you and your child see a young person smoking, use it as an opening by saying something like, "How much tobacco use are you seeing in your school? I wonder if it's the same as when I was your age."
Talk about health consequences. They need to know what can happen to them.
- Tobacco smoke contains more than 4,000 chemicals. According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), the most dangerous chemicals in cigarette smoke, besides nicotine, are tar and carbon monoxide. NIDA also states that tar causes lung cancer, emphysema, and bronchial diseases, and that carbon monoxide causes heart problems.
- According to NIDA, health risks can be immediate, affecting breathing, for example. And addiction can occur after smoking as few as 100 cigarettes, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Another influencer for adolescents is having a school program that teaches them to identify the social influences of tobacco use, and that teaches them refusal skills. That's why many middle schools use the free supplemental teaching materials known as Right Decisions Right Now (RDRN), a program sponsored by R. J. Reynolds. RDRN helps educate students about the risk of using tobacco products, helps them build good decision-making skills, and gives them ways to handle peer pressure. The program is available in an easy-to-use, digital format, which lets educators, community youth groups, and anyone concerned about reducing youth tobacco use utilize the free materials.
Learn more about the program, and find more parent resources, at www.rightdecisionsrightnow.com.
By Kids for Kids