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When Your Teen is Smoking

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

Q: I caught my 13-year-old son smoking about three months ago. I had a long talk with him and he promised that he wouldn't smoke anymore. I just found out that he's smoking again. I'm not sure how to discipline him. Should I keep him away from his friends?

A: The earlier that kids begin smoking, the more likely they will become addicted. Don't punish your 13-year-old or keep him away from his friends. These wouldn't be effective or appropriate responses. He needs your help and your understanding as he tries to overcome the temptations to smoke. There are many reasons why kids begin to smoke. Some are related to the physical pleasures involved in smoking, but my bet is that your son smokes because he thinks it's cool that he has friends who think the same way.

Telling him that he's going to die from lung cancer or trying to scare him out of smoking with the "black lung" routine probably won't affect the decisions he makes because he's young and thinks he's indestructible. Discussing how smoking can impair his athletic performance, his appeal to others (yellow teeth, bad breath, smelling like an ashtray), and his allowance (you can't continue to give him an allowance if the money could possibly be used for cigarettes) would appeal to him "where he lives."

Tell him that you'll research smoking-cessation programs for teens to get him some help. Start your search with the American Lung Association and your local Department of Public Health. It's also worth trying to appeal to his sense of being played for a sucker by tobacco companies, who attempt to lure young kids into becoming lifelong smokers. Try this mixture of empathy, support, and practical help. Remember, he's not trying to defy you by smoking; it's not easy to stop. Hang in there with him.

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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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