It’s no secret that tobacco use has long-term health consequences, but when it comes to minors, it’s also a crime. If your child is caught underage smoking, he or she could face criminal charges. So too could the adult who provided the cigarettes. Whether you have an interest in taking masters in criminal justice courses to start a career combating the issue in the community, or you just want to protect your own children, it is never too early or too late to start educating your children on the dangers and consequences of smoking.
An April 2013 University of Southern California study points to adults and peers alike influencing a child’s decision to smoke, which means you do have some say in what your child decides to do when it comes to smoking.
1. Don’t Smoke Yourself
“Do as I say, not as I do” simply doesn’t work, especially when it comes to smoking. If you or your significant other smoke, it’s time to stop, not only for your own health, but for your children’s. It’s definitely easier said than done, but if you couldn’t bring yourself to stick through a cessation program because you found it too difficult before, do it now for your children. Parents who smoke are sending the message to their kids that smoking is okay.
Make an appointment with your doctor for tips and medications to assist with quitting. There are also support groups that can help redirect your attention to other healthier activities so you’re not overcome by withdrawal symptoms.
2. Speak to Other Adults
You can control who smokes in your own home, but you can’t control who smokes in other homes. That said, if extended family members or adult friends smoke, ask that they refrain from doing so in your home and, if they’re willing, if they could even refrain from smoking in front of your children at their own homes or in public. The fewer adults your children see smoking, the less likely they are to accept the habit as normal or acceptable.
3. Get to Know Your Child’s Peers and Their Parents
Both family and friends can influence a child to start smoking, so it’s important that you stay involved in your children’s social lives. Ask to meet their friends. See if you think they’re responsible children. Ask to be kept updated on where your children will be when they’re with friends, and if they’re young enough, insist that they’re always under adult supervision.
Meet your child’s friends’ parents and ask if any of them smoke. If so, ask if they’re willing not to smoke when you child is over, or insist that your children and their friends get together in your house instead so you can keep an eye on them.
4. Educate Kids on Consequences
Emphysema and lung cancer are serious, life-threatening conditions. Someone who opts not to smoke is significantly lowering their risk of developing either disease. Show your children educational documentaries and photos that demonstrate how badly smoking destroys healthy lungs.
There are also documentaries that show the progression of people suffering from lung cancer, emphysema and other conditions caused or exacerbated by smoking that you can show to children. Start at a fairly young age. Children as young as 10 could be exposed to smoking by way of peer pressure.
5. Build Their Self-Esteem
A child with high self-esteem is more likely to withstand peer pressure, according to KidsHealth.org. If you build up your child’s self-confidence, you can trust them to make the right decision even when everything else is out of your hands. Easy ways to build children’s self-confidence include:
- Showing a genuine interest in their lives
- Praising their successes, even small ones
- Remembering to show them how much you care, even when disciplining them
- Encouraging them to take up hobbies like sports and music
Your child’s habits in their formative years will impact the habits they choose in their adult years, so give them the right head start.
About the Author: Caroline Sung is a contributing writer and middle school counselor. She’s surprised many parents by educating them on how peer pressure to smoke starts even when children are still in junior high.