Confronting your teen about smoking or any other sensitive issue can be challenging and frustrating for parents. Check out the following tips, offered by Dr. Alfonso Bustamante, CHOC Children’s pediatric psychologist, on what parents can do if they find out their teen smokes and how to help them quit.
1) What should a parent do if he finds out that his teen smokes?
Parents should immediately confront their teen with a fair, firm and consistent approach that smoking is not permitted and that there will be consequences. Right and wrong or healthy and unhealthy sermons are not usually helpful in the moment. Parents should begin an open and honest dialogue about the expectations they have for their teen. The hard part is introspection on behalf of the parent. They must ask themselves:
- Do I smoke?
- What environment and level of supervision have I provided for my teen?
These are hard questions. Usually smoking is a sign or symptom of much greater issues with trust, communication and respect in a family dynamic.
2) What kinds of questions can a parent ask to find out why their teen smokes?
The “why” can be a point of frustration for parents because often the answer is even unknown to the teen. They will likely shrug their shoulders or simply reply “I don’t know.” Again, it’s about creating a dialogue and doing a little detective work to explore the quality and nature of the communication in the home. A good place to begin would be for a parent to ask themselves:
- Does my teen trust me?
- What is the quality of the communication between my teen and me, or my partner and me (if a two parent household)?
- Are we, as parents, on the same page when it comes to discipline, structure, limits and boundaries?
- Further, parents would be wise to explore the what, where, when, how and who is my teen associated with?
Additionally, reaching out to other parents about your teen in a non-accusatory way has been very helpful to frustrated parents. Saying something as simple as, “I know my teen smokes and he/she hangs out with your teen, so I just wanted to give you the heads up,” is an example of creating a dialogue with other parents. Sometimes it helps to have all the parents in the loop because nothing is more powerful than a group of parents on a mission.
3) Can a teen receive counseling to help them quit smoking? What other support or resources can they look into?
Yes, parents can seek professional counseling for this issue, however, smoking is usually a symptom of a much greater issue with the teen or the family. Your teen’s school can also be a great resource. Consult with your teen’s physician to see if there are any safe smoking cessation products for your teen, or additional tools or programs.
Remember, lifting that veil of secrecy is usually the first step, and proven to be a very successful strategy for many parents. Deal with the behavior immediately by making strong and firm statements that smoking is not tolerated. Shaming, lecturing and the “why” are usually tactics for the parent’s own coping with the issue and can lead to further frustration with your teen and parent.
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