AD­VICE

Ad­vice on par­ent­ing, style and fi­nance

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MY TEENAGE SON HAS STARTED SMOK­ING!

Q The other day, my 16-year-old son dropped his school bag and the con­tents fell out, re­veal­ing a packet of cig­a­rettes. Nei­ther my hus­band nor I smoke and I didn’t have any idea that he was smok­ing. I’m wor­ried about his health. How do I tackle this?

AI can imag­ine it must have come as a shock; it is a wor­ry­ing is­sue among teens, and it’s one that’s sadly preva­lent. In fact teenagers can be the hard­est ones to con­vince of the harm­ful ef­fects, usu­ally be­cause they feel pretty in­vin­ci­ble at this age.

They start smok­ing for a va­ri­ety of rea­sons; peer pres­sure, the sense that they think it makes them look more grownup and most fre­quently be­cause one or both of their par­ents smoke. As this doesn’t ap­ply in your case, the first thing to find out is why he started and how long he’s been smok­ing.

Do­ing this in a con­fronta­tional and judge­men­tal way would prob­a­bly be coun­ter­pro­duc­tive. It’s im­por­tant to keep calm and stay mea­sured. As with all par­ent­ing is­sues, it’s good to present a united front and dis­cussing how you are go­ing to deal with it be­fore­hand will be more pow­er­ful in the long run.

Once you’ve es­tab­lished the ‘why’ and the ‘how long’, you’ll bet­ter un­der­stand how to help him quit. Then send a strong clear mes­sage telling him how you both feel about him smok­ing and that you will sup­port him in any way to quit. Ask him to tell you what he thinks the risks of smok­ing are, and be armed with the facts, so you can cor­rect any mis­un­der­stand­ing.

It’s my ex­pe­ri­ence that teens don’t fully com­pre­hend the risks, so it’s also worth ap­peal­ing to their van­ity too. Heart dis­ease, can­cer and stroke are very wor­ry­ing health mes­sages for adults, but teenagers of­ten feel they don’t ap­ply to them. Telling him it makes his breath and clothes smell, that it lit­er­ally takes his breath away so that it’s more dif­fi­cult to be in­volved in sports and fit­ness, and that it causes skin to dry and wrin­kle and teeth and fin­gers to go yel­low might be a more com­pelling set of ar­gu­ments for a teen.

I think it’s also im­por­tant to tell him you un­der­stand that smok­ing is an ad­dic­tion and that it can feel like giv­ing up is a scary prospect, but that you will be with him every step of the way. Get him to think of the fu­ture and what he wants to achieve in life, so that he has pos­i­tive rea­sons to give up. How­ever, it’s wise to be aware that the de­sire to give up has, in the end, got to come from him. All you can do is make it plain that you want the best for him and that in­cludes his health and well-be­ing, make it clear what the con­se­quences of smok­ing are and that you will help and sup­port him in any way to avoid the con­se­quences and that you will re­ward him when he’s suc­cess­ful.

If he is keen to move for­ward, then help­ing him to cre­ate a plan of ac­tion is a good first step. Putting a date in the di­ary to quit is

It’s my ex­pe­ri­ence that teenagers don’t fully com­pre­hend the risks. HEART DIS­EASE, CAN­CER and STROKE are wor­ry­ing, but teenagers of­ten feel they don’t ap­ply to them

the first step and help­ing your son iden­tify any trig­ger points that might desta­bilise him, in­clud­ing oth­ers in his so­cial cir­cle who smoke and might draw him back into the habit, is also an im­por­tant part of kick­ing the habit.

I hope you are suc­cess­ful in con­vinc­ing him that smok­ing is a dam­ag­ing habit. The younger you start to smoke, the more likely you are to carry on, but with your sup­port, he stands the best chance of a smoke-free fu­ture.

RUS­SELL HEM­MINGS is a life coach, and clin­i­cal and cog­ni­tive be­havioural hyp­nother­a­pist

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