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Mother Upset That Son Smokes

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

Q: My husband and I gave up smoking while I was pregnant. I started back after our son was born, but my husband is still smoke-free. Our son is now 15. We've raised him to the best of our ability and are very proud of him.

Our son began dating a 16-year-old girl named "Lorrie" three months ago. She's very attractive and mature for her age. She has her driver's license and she smokes with her parent's permission. In other words, she's my worst nightmare, but I've always been polite to her.

They spend a lot of time at our house and I allow her to smoke while she's here because I smoke in the house and she has her parent's permission. To tell you the truth, due to her smoking, I never thought the relationship would last, but it doesn't seem to bother my son. He lights her cigarettes and I've even seen him kiss her while she still has smoke in her mouth.

In the past, when I tried to talk to him about my concerns, he told me he wasn't smoking and then he'd change the subject. Today I found a pack of my cigarettes rolled up in a sock while I was putting away his clothes. It's official, my son is smoking. I haven't told him I know yet because I don't know how to handle it. Would I be right to prohibit him from seeing Lorrie since I believe she's the cause of this?

A: Lorrie is not the cause of your son's smoking. At 15, he alone is responsible for his smoking. Forbidding him to see Lorrie because he is smoking will neither prevent him from seeing her nor cause him to stop smoking. You are conflicted and no doubt feel guilty because you have smoked for your son's entire life, exposing him to your example and second-hand smoke. You no doubt would feel hypocritical forbidding Lorrie's smoking in your home, since she smokes with her parent's approval and you smoke in your home in your son's presence.

This situation presents you, your husband, and your son with some worthy challenges. First, tell your son that you found your cigarettes in his sock and ask him to be truthful with you about his smoking. Let's get the truth on the table first. You and your husband both know how difficult it is to stop smoking. It's one of the worst addictions and very hard to kick permanently.

Congratulations go to your husband for quitting and remaining cigarette-free for the past 15 years. You and your husband need to help your son in any way that you can to stop smoking. Despite Lorrie's influence, you must help him and do so without any blame or shame. I would also ask to have a discussion with Lorrie about your worries about your son's smoking. Regardless of her own smoking, she realizes that smoking is terribly unhealthy. She also realizes, or should realize, the dangers of second-hand smoke. If she realizes the harm of second-hand smoke to others, then you can appeal to her not to smoke when she is with your son. You realize, however, that you cannot ask her to do something that you are not willing to do. If you ask Lorrie to refrain for smoking in your house with your son, then you must do the same.

Whether or not they remain girlfriend and boyfriend, your son may become addicted to cigarettes (becoming addicted happens very quickly) and remain a smoker after they have broken up. The chances of them breaking up, given the average length of teen romances, are very high. The chance that he will become addicted to cigarettes is also very high.

I am suggesting a reality check for you, your husband, your son, Lorrie, and Lorrie's parents. You have to decide whether or not you wish to continue damaging your family's health with your second-hand smoke. Your husband has to acknowledge that your second-hand smoke has been damaging his health and your son's health for the past 15 years. He has a right, as does your son, to demand that you stop smoking in the home or anywhere else in their presence. We know what smoking has done to your health.

Your son needs to do everything in his power to stop smoking. Lorrie needs to hear your concerns about your son's health and her smoking in front of your son. So do her parents. You can talk to her parents in a non-judgmental way about this, using your own addiction and guilt as part of the discussion. Even if you will not now agree to stop smoking inside your home, you and your husband cannot allow Lorrie to smoke inside your home. Simply put, you can at least prevent her second-hand smoke from harming your son and your husband.

My suggestions for dealing with your son's smoking set his health and the health of your family as the top priorities. You may choose to ignore them or you may choose to use this situation as your wake-up call. Your actions will show your priorities. Get all the help and support from family, friends, and professionals that you can to clear the air for those you love...and for yourself as well.

Learn More

  • Stamping Out Teen Smoking

    More on: Expert Advice

    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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