Does Your Child Use Tobacco?
Warning Signs of Tobacco Use
Do you think your child might be smoking or using other tobacco products? Watch for the following signs, any of which may indicate that he has been smoking:
- Friends who use tobacco products
- The smell of smoke or tobacco in her hair or clothes
- Starting to use mouthwash, breath mints, or chewing gum
- Leaving windows open in her bedroom for no reason
- Frequently making excuses to go outside
- Burn holes in clothing or carpet
- Finding matches or a lighter in his bedroom or backpack
Your Child’s Reaction
There are many ways that you child might react to you bringing up the subject of tobacco use. Here are some ways to deal with different responses to the topic:
- If your child denies tobacco use, and you believe him, keep checking in periodically.
- Point out that being a “smoker” can mean different things to different people
- If your child denies tobacco use, and you don’t believe her, don’t give up on communication.
- Don’t overreact if your child tries to explain away evidence by saying things like “I was holding the cigarettes for my friend,” or “My clothes smell like smoke because other kids were smoking in the car.”
- Focus on the smoking, not on the lying. Saying something like, “Well, maybe you didn’t smoke, but I want to talk about tobacco anyway,” may help you bring up the subject less contentiously.
- If your child admits to smoking, give him credit for his honesty. It’s not easy to tell your parents that you smoke.
Finding out That Your Child Uses Tobacco Products
It can be very upsetting finding out that your child has been using smoking or using other tobacco products, and you may be tempted to confront your son or daughter angrily. This, however, can turn the conversation into a battle, make your child defensive, and make it much more difficult to help your child. Instead, stay calm and use some of the following strategies:
- Keep your cool. If you need to postpone the conversation so you can collect your thoughts, just say “I’m pretty upset by this right now—let’s talk about it later.”
- Gather information. Try to find out why your child smokes, how often, how much, and how she got started. Remember: you’re not an interrogator, you’re a parent. If you discover what appeal smoking holds for your child, you can help her address the relevant issues.
- Many teens are hesitant to talk to their parents about smoking or other tobacco use, because they fear being punished.1 If your child admits to smoking when you ask about it, give him credit for his honesty—it’s not easy to tell your parents that you smoke or chew!
If Your Child Uses Tobacco
Finding out that your child smokes or uses other tobacco products can be tough, but supporting their efforts to quit can be even more difficult. Quitting is a process that can take a very long time, and usually requires multiple attempts. In order to make it as easy for your teen as possible, you have to be prepared.
- Make sure your child knows that he can talk to you about his habit, even though you disapprove of the behavior. Keep the lines of communication open.
- Work with your teen to find out which smoking cessation programs are available in your area. Encourage your child to talk with a physician about quitting. Talk to a school guidance counselor and ask if there are any school-based cessation programs available. Look online to see if organizations such as the American Lung Association have local chapters that may be able to help.
- If you smoke, join a cessation program with your child. Having a “support buddy” can be a big help in sticking to your commitment to quit.
- Realize that, like adults, teens experience withdrawal symptoms when trying to quit smoking. The symptoms may be different, however; many teens have reported that cravings and anxiety are their strongest symptoms.2 Try to be understanding of the difficulty that she is experiencing and help her schedule low-stress days away from friends who use tobacco.
- Be prepared for relapses, especially within the first week.3 Many smokers stop and start smoking again several times before they successfully quit. Stay supportive and don’t act disappointed if your teen relapses. Let him know that you realize how difficult the process is.
- Understand that stress is one of the most common reasons for kids to start smoking.4 Keep your home as stress-free as possible, and help your teen deal with the issues in her life that are causing stress.
- Many teen smokers do not seek out help with quitting. If we reach out to teens, however, without pressuring them to quit, many will talk to counselors about their smoking and some of those teens will decide to quit. 5
- Don’t stop providing support. Encourage your teen often, and express your pride in the fact that he is trying to quit. Make sure he knows that you are always available to talk.
Whether your child just started using tobacco or has been using for several months or years, it’s important to start the conversation about quitting right away. No matter how old your child is, tobacco use could have dire consequences for many years to come, so start taking positive action today.
1. Robin Mermelstein, “Teen Smoking Cessation,” Tobacco Control 12, suppl. I (2003): 125-134.
2. Steffani Bailey and others, “Withdrawal Symptoms Over Time among Adolescents in a Smoking Cessation Intervention: Do Symptoms Vary by Level of Nicotine Dependence?” Addictive Behaviors 34, no .12 (2009): 1017-1022.
3. Won S. Choi, Jasjit S. Ahluwalia, and Niaman Nazir, “Adolescent Smoking Cessation: Implications for Relapse-Sensitive Interventions,” Archives of Pediatrics & Adolescent Medicine 156, no.6 (2002): 625-626.
4. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Keeping Youth Drug Free (Rockville, MD: Center for Substance Abuse Prevention, DHHS Publication No. (SMA)-3772, 2002, revised 2004).
5. Min Jung Kim, Charles B. Fleming, & Richard F. Catalano. Individual and Social Influences in Progression to Daily Smoking During Adolescence. Pediatrics 124 , no. 3 (2009): 895-902
- Alcohol Use
- Drug Use
- Depression and Suicide
- Tobacco Use
- Bullying and Cyberbullying
- Early Sexual Activity
- Eating Disorders
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