By Michael D. Smart, ‘97
Regardless of potentially negative influences on teens from peers and school environments, parents can make the difference in helping their children avoid smoking. Brigham Young University sociology associate professor John P. Hoffmann, who has studied drug abuse for a decade, recommends five general guidelines for parents.
1. Don’t assume it can’t happen to your children. As Hoffmann’s recent study shows (see “Seeing Through the Smoke,” p. 20), sometimes teens attending what may be perceived as our most successful schools may be at a high risk of smoking. Research by BYU professors Bruce A. Chadwick, ’62, and Brent L. Top, ’76, shows that 19 percent of Latter-day Saint high schoolers have tried cigarettes.
2. Talk with your teens. Research bears out what many frustrated parents already know–communication dwindles as children move through adolescence and the transition from junior high to high school. “We found that a poor relationship with parents puts children at risk for smoking,” Hoffmann says. “If you’re not involved in their lives, they are at a higher risk for peer influence.”
3. Teach your children both the immediate and long-term health risks of smoking. Emphasizing consequences that appear to be far off frequently backfires with teens, many of whom have a short-term perspective. Hoffmann suggests that, before bringing up more common, but long-term, consequences like lung cancer and heart disease, you talk to your children about the decreased lung capacity, yellowing teeth, and unpleasant odors that immediately accompany smoking.
4. Cultivate in your child a long-term approach to life. Understanding lifelong consequences of one’s actions is a valuable lesson for any teen, particularly when an addictive habit like smoking is at issue. Hoffman urges parents to take advantage of the power of gospel concepts and teach their children that their bodies are temples and that their decisions will have eternal repercussions.
5. Treat each child as an individual. “Each of your children is going to be different, and their responses to academic pressure will be different,” Hoffmann says. “Some may thrive on it, but some may struggle to deal with it and be tempted to turn their frustration toward smoking. Make sure your children know you value them individually, not just academically.”