Children and teenagers start smoking for lots of reasons, including:
- to fit in with their peers
- to be like adults or feel more like an adult
- to explore and experiment
- to rebel or get attention
- to deal with stress and depression
- to control their weight
Many kids experiment by smoking a few cigarettes and then stop. Unfortunately, many others go on to become regular smokers. About half of these regular smokers will become addicted.
Most teenage smokers believe they will quit in the near future. Only a handful believe they will become lifetime smokers. As a result, youth are more likely to be interested in quitting than adults. If they do make a serious attempt to quit, most are surprised at how hard it is. Their confidence may come from the fact that kids tend to be better able to regulate how much they smoke and where they smoke. For example, many are forced to stop smoking when they are away from friends or family who supply them with tobacco or when they do not have money to buy their own cigarettes.
What can a parent or caregiver do?
First, you can be a good role model. If you smoke, try quitting. At the very least avoid smoking in front of your children. Second, talk to your kids about your smoking. Many children mistakenly assume that it is okay if they smoke because one or more of their parents or caregivers smoke. Don't leave things to chance.
So what should you say?
Start talking directly and clearly about your concerns with smoking when your children are very young - as early as 6 years of age. Let them know your values and that you care about them. Don't assume they know all the dangers of smoking. They may not realize the seriousness or scope of the dangers.
Ask your children to tell you their thoughts about smoking or why they smoke, the pressures they feel to smoke, and whether they've ever thought about quitting. Ask them what it would take to stop and how you could be supportive.
Don't humiliate or nag them. Speak to them as intelligent people capable of making responsible decisions for themselves. Explore what rewards they would achieve by stopping smoking. For example, they might save money. They might perform better in sporting activities, recreational activities, or school. Let them generate their own ideas.
Over time, try to keep a respectful dialogue going, whether or not you or they stop. They didn't start smoking in a day and they usually won't stop smoking in a day. It takes time. Give it time. If you don't influence what happens today, you may well influence what they will do in the future.
Written and reviewed by the MediResource Clinical Team