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Q. I just caught my 12-year-old son smoking. When I was a kid my father would have made me smoke the whole pack. Does that work? What's the best way to make him stop?
A. How did your father make you smoke a pack of cigarettes? Did forcing you to smoke an entire pack keep you from lighting up thereafter?
Even if your father's approach did remedy your interest in smoking, realize that taking that same approach with your son might not be effective. Parenting today is different than a generation ago. Your son will probably refuse to smoke the pack of cigarettes, and an ugly altercation between you and your child could result, making the situation worse.
Here are some alternative suggestions:
Don't freak out. Losing your temper and throwing a tantrum won't do any good. Becoming the secret police by conducting surprise searches through your son's dresser drawer and back pack is ill advised as well. But don't dismiss the smoking incident as a phase and assume your son will come to his senses and miraculously stop, either.
Instead, take a deep breath, calm down and talk to your child rationally and firmly. Start by focusing on the immediate disadvantages of smoking rather than long-term risks. Talk about stinky breath, hair and clothes, the amount of money cigarettes cost, and the addictive effects of smoking. If your son is involved with sports, talk about how smoking will impair his ability to perform on the athletic field.
Talking about the negative long-term medical effects by saying, "If you smoke you'll be 50 and get lung cancer," has little effect on teenagers. It's too far in the future. However, if you know an adult who has tried to quit smoking, have him discuss with your son his frustrations with his addiction. A testimonial by an admired adult could send a powerful message, motivating your son to never smoke again.
Talk about advertising and media influences and how they beckon teens to smoke. Teens are rebels by nature and some will stop smoking if they feel they are being lured and manipulated by the marketing efforts of cigarette companies. Watch the movie The Insider together, and then open up conversation and discussion about the tobacco industry.
Voice your disappointment and concern. "I'm so disappointed that you would do something that is so distasteful and unbecoming and that will ultimately jeopardize your short- and long-term health.
Lastly, admit to your son that you have little control over whether he smokes or not. Tell him you hope he never inhales another puff of cigarette smoke, but that you realize he alone is in charge of this decision. Let him know it's only because you love him so much that you hope he'll never smoke again and lead a healthy life without tobacco involved.