Talking to Your Kids about Not Using Tobacco

Bringing up the topic of tobacco use can be tough, but it’s important to talk about it—especially if you think your child may have already have tried or using other tobacco products. It’s easy to feel like your child will just brush you off and tell you to “stop worrying so much.” This, combined with the fact that bringing up the topic can be a little awkward, can make it tough to start the conversation. Fortunately, there are some ways to make broaching the subject easier.

  • Bring up the topic when you’re doing something together, like riding in the car, walking the dog, watching TV, or any other activity that doesn’t require your child’s full attention.
  • You can also start the conversation if your child is going to be in a place where she might see tobacco use, such as a party—talk about how she could deal with situations she might encounter.
  • Don’t insist on eye contact—some kids find it easier to talk when they’re not looking you straight in the eye.
  • Comment on an advertisement or TV show that shows someone smoking, or a story in the newspaper about a celebrity using tobacco.
  • If you see someone using tobacco—such as a relative at a family gathering or one of your own friends—ask your child what he thinks about it.
  • Ask your child if any of her friends who use tobacco.
  • Many schools and sports teams have rules about tobacco use—discuss some of the health reasons for these rules.

Even though you may feel like your teen doesn’t listen to what you say, research shows that parents are a strong influence on whether teens smoke.1 Even pre-teens—who might roll their eyes when you start talking about the dangers of tobacco—are paying attention to what you say. To make sure you have the best possible influence on your child, start talking about tobacco early.

  • Remember—keep it light! You’re trying to have a conversation, not give a lecture. Don’t do all of the talking. Really listen to what your child has to say without judging.
  • Learn effective listening skills to make your conversations more positive.
  • Talk about your values, even when your children are young. Tell your kids why you disapprove of smoking and that you will be disappointed if they pick it up.
  • Focus on short-term consequences. Even though adults know that using tobacco has dire long-term consequences, teens may be more affected by the idea of the short-term ones, such as bad breath, foul-smelling clothes, or stained teeth.
  • Talk about peer pressure. The best way to address peer pressure is to talk about it directly. Let your kids know that you understand how difficult it can be to say no to friends, but that it’s important to stand by your values and beliefs.
  • Tell your child about the consequences for smoking in your family, and let him know that you will follow through on them.

It’s easy to feel like you’re not getting through to your kids when you talk about tough issues like tobacco use. But remember that you do have an effect on their decisions and that your expectations matter to them. To help your child make smart decisions about tobacco use, bring up the topic early and talk with your children about it on a regular basis.

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1. The National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse at Columbia University, Malignant Neglect: Substance Abuse and America’s Schools (2001).