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Teenage Daughter Smokes

Toddler and Teenager Expert Advice from Carleton Kendrick, Ed.M., LCSW

Q: What should a parent do concerning a l7-year-old smoking? We've discussed all the dangers of it and now feel it's time to step in and maybe take her car away until she quits. Any suggestions?

A: This is a very thorny issue as you have discovered. Showing teens "the black lung show" so popular in school doesn't work with a 17-year-old. They know those lungs are those of a 60-year-old and they will tell you they can and will quit long before it can ever become a health problem. Maddeningly, but realistically, teens will more likely quit smoking because a potential boyfriend or girlfriend frowns on it than if you threaten to take the car.

What many kids don't believe, until they accidentally or purposely go without their "nicotine fix" for a while is how addictive cigarettes are and how badly they are physically hooked. Since I'm a believer in the discipline of natural consequences, I don't believe the taking away of her car is a natural consequence of her continuing to smoke. Yellow teeth, stinking clothes, horrible breath, shortness of breath, lots of hard-earned money down the drain, etc. -- these are natural consequences of continued smoking to a teen. A majority of girls I have counseled smoke to suppress their appetite in an effort to diet and/or remain thin. It works, so it's tough for them to give up this "diet aid".

I would say you can calmly state your reasons why you are worried about her smoking, offer to get her any professional medical help she wants to kick the habit, let her know you know how tough it is to kick this habit and that you will do anything you can to help her kick it. I would say that you cannot, in good conscience, give her an allowance or spending money knowing that money may go towards injuring her health. If she wants to buy cigarettes she'll have to do it with money she earns from sources other than you. You can also forbid her to smoke in your house, your car, around her siblings and feel that is a reasonable position. Good luck. This is the habit that is the toughest physical addiction I treat.

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Carleton Kendrick has been in private practice as a family therapist and has worked as a consultant for more than 20 years. He has conducted parenting seminars on topics ranging from how to discipline toddlers to how to stay connected with teenagers. Kendrick has appeared as an expert on national broadcast media such as CBS, Fox Television Network, Cable News Network, CNBC, PBS, and National Public Radio. In addition, he's been quoted in the New York Times, Washington Post, Chicago Tribune, Boston Globe, USA Today, Reader's Digest, BusinessWeek, Good Housekeeping, Woman's Day, and many other publications.


Please note: This "Expert Advice" area of FamilyEducation.com should be used for general information purposes only. Advice given here is not intended to provide a basis for action in particular circumstances without consideration by a competent professional. Before using this Expert Advice area, please review our General and Medical Disclaimers.

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