Help Your Kids To Not Smoke, Part Two: Peer Pressure

Part Two of last week's Mother's Day Q Blog: Dealing With Peer Pressure


Most adult smokers picked up their first cigarette when they were teenagers, and so began a potential lifelong addiction. Peer pressure is one of the most common reasons kids start to smoke. Adolescence is a time when fitting in is extremely important. Kids want to be liked by their peers and fear being made fun of or singled out. Teens may engage in risky behaviors in order to win social acceptance from their peers. If invited to join a group where smoking is common, your teen will most likely smoke to feel accepted. This is especially true if a teen feels socially awkward and doesn’t make friends easily.

It’s also more likely for teens with attention deficit/hyperactivity (ADHD) to experiment with smoking and become nicotine dependent. Nicotine is a stimulant that acts similar to some of the medications used to treat ADHD. Cigarettes easily become the drug of choice for kids with ADHD, as they self-medicate to relieve their symptoms. School life and social pressures can increase stress and anxiety for all teens. So, while smoking may start as a result of peer pressure, it may end up as a coping tool for life's daily stress.

Get to know your teen’s friends! Ask your teens if any of their friends smoke. Ask if they talk about smoking with their friends or if they have ever been offered cigarettes. If their close friends smoke, eventually they may break down and try one. Ask them to picture situations where their friends may offer them a cigarette. Help them practice resisting peer pressure by doing some role-playing so they feel comfortable saying no to their friends.They can blame it on their parents: “Not for me, My Mom/Dad will ground me for life if I smoke”, or use humor: “No Way. There are all kinds of poisonous chemicals in those things!” They can even be blunt and just say “No thanks”.

Ask your teen their opinion on the dangers of smoking. It’s best not to lecture on the long term consequences of smoking as teens tend to live in the here and now and ten to twenty years down the road is an eternity to them. Your teen’s vanity is a better hook. Teens don’t want yellow teeth, wrinkly skin, or smelly breath and hair. If you want your teen to be aware of the health risks of smoking, put it in terms that are relative to them now. Let them know how smoking will affect their ability to sing, dance, run track, play ball, swim; even date! Choose something that matters to them.

Smoking is expensive. Have your teen do the math on how much money the average smoker spends a year on cigarettes. Have them make a list of things they could buy with that money. Chances are, they have been asking or saving for something special; now’s a good time to show them the financial costs of cigarette smoking. Offer a reward incentive for staying smoke-free (or quitting if they smoke) and see how quick they comply!  

Your teen is faced with peer pressure on a daily basis, so expect to revisit the issue of smoking frequently. Being supportive will help them make the right choice. Being an example by not smoking, setting clear boundaries that smoking is not an option, and keeping the communication lines open will help prevent your children from becoming smokers!