Why Parents Should Help Their Teens Become Quitters

Young Smoking
The American Cancer Society is sponsoring the 37th Annual Great American Smokeout to encourage teens to stop smoking (Photo credit: M Hooper)

There are many things that parents aspire to teach to their teens, but being a quitter isn’t usually one of them.  However, when it comes to smoking and tobacco use, helping teens become quitters is the best thing parents can do.  On November 15th, the American Cancer Society sponsored the 37th annual Great American Smokeout, when smokers across the country are encouraged not to smoke for an entire day.  By encouraging people to think about quitting, make a plan to quit, or even commit to being smoke-free for an entire day, the American Cancer Society wants to help every smoker take a step towards choosing a healthier life.

A recent survey amongst high school students found that while the number of teens who are smoking has decreased in recent years, almost 20% of our teens smoke.   When you consider the immediate and long term health consequences of smoking and the fact that the majority of smokers started smoking during their teen years, promoting non-smoking among teens is something we as a society needs to support.

For teachers, parents, mentors, and teens themselves, the Great American Smokeout offers another opportunity to talk about smoking, to help those that are smoking to get the help they need to quit, and to do what can be done to keep teens from taking up smoking in the first place.

For parents of teen smokers, there are some things you can do to help your child become a quitter.

1.     Talk, Listen, but Don’t Yell

While your teen needs to hear, in no uncertain terms, that they need to quit smoking, that message needs to be delivered in a way that your teen can digest it.  Yelling, shaming, berating, and giving your teen ultimatums is not the way to get this message across.  Arguments and anger are more likely to make your teen defensive than receptive, which is what they need to be in order to hear the truth behind what you are saying. Be calm, curious, and clear in order to convey your message.

2.     Put Yourself in Their Shoes

The best way to help your teen quit is to start by trying to understand what made them start smoking and why they continue to do so.  For many teens, smoking signifies rebellion, adulthood, and independence.  It can make them feel cool or help them fit in to a specific social set.  It can increase their confidence or even make them feel glamorous.  If you can have a calm conversation about why your teen is smoking, you can gain an understanding of why this dangerous behavior appeals to them and help them find other ways to get whatever it is they feel smoking is giving them.

3.     Paint them a Picture

While the dangers of smoking are well-known, smoking can seem like something that may impact your health at some point which means that it isn’t always easy for teens to understand how those dangers actually affect them right now.  Paint them a picture of what smoking is doing to them right now.   Smoking gives you bad breath and can make people not want to date them.  Smoking makes your hair, clothes, car, and belongings smell.  Smoking turns your teeth yellow, can make your skin pale, and sucks out all your energy.  Things like dancing and playing sports can be harder to do when you smoke and because you must go outside and away from others in order to do it, smoking can actually isolate you more than it helps you feel included.

Sharing these messages with teens, providing them with the tools and support they need to quit, and standing by them even if they struggle to quit are the best things parents can do to help their teens turn the tide and become non-smokers for life.

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