5 Ways Parents Can Reduce Teenage Smoking

According to the Cancer Council (Australia) 43,000 kids take up smoking in Australia every year. Approximately 15,000 Australians die from smoking related causes every year – more than from alcohol and illicit drugs combined.  More than 80% of adults smokers started smoking before the age of 18.

None of this is probably very surprising, but it is worth mentioning.  What might not be so well known is that smoking during adolescence can cause permanent genetic changes to the lungs which permanently increase the risk of lung cancer.  Of particular interest in this research is that the earlier the age of starting to smoke has greater predictive significance than how heavily a young person smoked.

My point is simple, we should be trying to discourage young people from smoking – for their sake, and for the sake of the global health budget.

My second non surprising statement for this post is that parents are key to reducing the risks for teenagers and smoking.  No parent has a teenager who is immune from taking up smoking, and there are no guarantees in life. However parents can influence a teenager’s behaviour in many ways.  In this post I want to look at 5 ways parents can have a positive influence on their teenager and smoking.

Don’t Smoke

As with many things in life our kids will often be more influenced by what we say than by what we do. It will be very hard for any parent to convey a don’t smoke message through a cloud of their own cigarette smoke. Research shows that a teenager’s odds of daily smoking are reduced by more than 70 percent compared to when both parents continue to smoke. And if both parents were smokers but quit, those same odds are reduced by nearly 40 percent.

Be Clear

Not smoking is an important message, but it is a message that needs to be backed up with words. Does your teenager know that you think smoking is not a good thing?  Do you have clear rules about smoking not being permitted and why it is not permitted? (I realise this can be hard if a family member already smokes.)  Parents who say very calmly and clearly that they disapprove of smoking, and express the desire for their children to avoid smoking are providing a clear boundary for their teenager – and teenagers do better with clear boundaries.

Be Involved

The  more parents are involved and connected with their teenagers throughout  adolescence the greater the chance of good outcomes for the teen in a whole range of areas –see previous posts.  No surprise that the same is true of smoking. Research has shown that teens who have strong connection with their parents are at far less risk of taking up smoking. A recent study by Cardiff University concluded one of the strongest protective factors for reducing the risk of experimenting with smoking in early adolescence was how often fathers talked with their children, both boys and girls, about ‘things that mattered’. Note it was not talking to them about smoking, but talking about any areas of life “that mattered”.

Empower Them to Say No

A teenager’s friends also have a big influence over their decision to smoke or not. A study in 2002 of over 20,000 teenagers found that teens who had at least three friends who were regular smokers were 24 times more likely to become regular smokers themselves.  The pressure to conform and not be left out or mocked is a powerful force in a teenager’s world. Parents therefore need to be proactive and make sure their teen has ways of saying no to smoking.  I could just be a mater of giving your teen the confidence and encouragement to simply say “No thanks. I don’t smoke.” Helping think though scenario’s, like being mocked or teased for not smoking, empowers a teen to be ready when a situation arises.

Educate Clearly About the Risks

Teens believe they will live forever and nothing will ever happen to them.  They also have a not so solid risk assessment process going on in their still developing brains.  From a teens perspective Smoking may look like a cool thing to do, with very little down side. Research has shown teens are often unable to notice that occasional use of cigarettes is creating an addiction.  A recent study has concluded that non-daily use of tobacco can trigger these early signs of dependence. Early dependence promotes increased smoking. That in turn accelerates additional signs of dependence, which leads to even higher frequencies of smoking. Eventually, it leads to addiction.

Adults need to spell out very clearly the risks posed by smoking. Risks such as:

  • Lung Cancer, currently causes the most cancer deaths in Australia and this is due mainly to smoking.
  • Heart Disease kills over 48.000 Australians per year, smoking is a key contributor to this statistic.
  • Emphysema is  a very unpleasant and uncomfortable disease.
  • Reduced lung capacity, less energy to enjoy yourself and not as good on sports field.
  • Smoking makes your clothes and hair smell, and it turns your teeth yellow

Doing all of this does not guarantee your teen won’t smoke, but it will definitely put the odds more in your favour.

Image by James Alby
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