ADDICTION
May 9, 2010

Teen Smoking: Talk About It

A simple parent-teen conversation, or several, is the best way to prevent teens from smoking, especially if dad is involved.

How can you stop your children from experimenting with cigarettes? A recent British study found that talking with them about smoking before they start is one of the most effective ways to do so.

In the study, father-child conversations worked the best.

Even though it may seem like you're talking to the wall, sometimes your message is getting through. And smoking is one topic where it's clearly worth the effort.

The three-year study found that children whose father talked with them often about "things that mattered" were significantly more likely to remain non-smokers. Of all the family characteristics looked at, father-child communication was the most effective one at preventing experimentation with cigarettes. It worked for both boys and girls.

Look at the situation from the child's viewpoint. He or she may be in daily contact with several people who smoke and see no obvious ill effect to the smoker. Curiosity is likely to get the better of them at some point. What harm can smoking a cigarette or two possibly do, they wonder.

If only they knew.

Smoking is a potentially deadly habit. The best way to remain a non-smoker is never to start. Cigarettes are an incredibly difficult habit to give up, once started. And the habit is often picked up by casual experimentation as a teenager.

That's where the parenting comes in. Fathers need to find a way to explain this to their children. Now, having a serious conversation with your child can sometimes be as frustrating as talking to someone from another planet, especially after they become a teenager. The study points out the need for doing so anyway. Even though it may seem like you're talking to the wall, sometimes your message is getting through. And smoking is one topic where it's clearly worth the effort.

The study looked at 3,500 British youths, aged 11-15, who had never smoked at the time the study began. Three years later, it compared the responses of those who were still non-smokers to those who had begun experimenting with smoking. As well as asking about smoking habits, the study also asked for information about typical family behavior, such as the amount of family arguments and the frequency of family meals and parent-child communication. All information was self-reported.

Though not covered in the study, talks are more likely to prevent smoking if you yourself don't smoke. It's leading by example.

The study results were presented on April 15 at the British Psychological Society's 2010 Annual Conference.

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