When we, desperate parents who take the threat seriously, fire a barrage of chilling statistics at them we are more often than not met with disdain. Teens are afraid of the possibility of having to wait for their deepest desires to be fulfilled. They’re afraid of delayed gratification. Teens are alight on the pyre of their own angst, awash in the intensity of their own emotions; the killer effects of smoking seem tame by comparison. The truth is many teens expect to be dead from sheer over indulgence and over excitement long before the effects of smoking take hold.
We parents do better when we know what we are up against. So, the point of telling teens about the devastating effects of smoking is not so much to hear our own voices, right? We can do that more successfully in the shower. What we want is results. We are desperately invested in keeping our children alive and healthy.
Now the next trick is to know this about ourselves. To know the intensity of our desperation and paranoia on their behalf, and to set about disguising it with an approach that verges on casual. So this is what we need to know. The battle has to be fought leopard crawling through the scrublands and not shouting stridently from soapboxes on street corners.
Step 1: Parents who smoke don’t have a leg to stand on. It’s no use trying the “look what mom has to go through…you don’t want to be like this do you?” It simply won’t do, doesn’t work. Just forget it. Stop smoking if you want to stop your teens from smoking. Get help. Do whatever you have to, but toss that illusion. You will not be able to be a bad enough example to your teens so they won’t smoke.
Step 2: Prevention is streaks ahead of cure. Oddly enough telling your teens about smoking doesn’t entail long, heavy-handed lectures. Teens question everything, you included. You’ll need to spend quality time with your teens speaking about anything and everything and slipping in the odd hint on the dangers of smoking. Yes, you’ll have to be subtle. Prevention works better when the teens connect with you and therefore respect your opinion. They will not respect the pearls of wisdom that issue forth regarding the hopeless state of the youth today and their repugnant penchant for self-destruction. With teens you have to go to where they’re at, emotionally that is. This is easy if you remember what you were like at that age. Hopefully you were also a bit of a revolutionary looking to change things and turn the world on its head. Teens are not far wrong about this. What is wrong is the association that springs up between the teens’ healthy desire to question and rebel and cool dudes like James Dean smoking up a storm.
Step 3: If despite your subtle guerilla approach your teens start smoking, don’t, whatever you do, panic. This will frighten them, and not in a good way. Remember, parents in the grip of panic look plain silly to their teens who believe they know everything. Teens will cover a great deal of ground to avoid the added discomfort of shame and guilt. They are having a hard enough time loving themselves as it is. Consider this: amidst all the sinister facts on smoking there are teens and parents of teens that have come out on the other side. There ARE survivors.
Step 4: Persist in believing in your teens’ capacity to quit smoking the minute it stops working for her. It stops working for her when she becomes disillusioned with the perks it’s supposed to offer. Stand next to your child during this process of disillusionment not opposite her pointing a finger. Open up about tough habits you have had to kick. There is a little bit of the addict in everyone. Yes, there is the physical addiction but many experts are of the opinion that the emotional addiction is the more virulent of the two. Be the person that your teen can tell about what makes her want to smoke. Yes, I know that is difficult. The thing is, it pays off.
If you can keep the fear out of your eyes and the panic out of your voice your teens will keep you posted as they edge along this tough path called life and they’ll get used to trusting you and that, THAT, is the best safeguard you can have to help your teens with smoking and all the other challenges they’ll have to face.