“I just wish I knew what she was thinking.” This is a sentiment that surely all parents with a teenager have said or thought more than once. Although mind-reading probably wouldn’t be a super power most of us would enjoy, it could definitely come in handy at times as we raise our kids.
For this blog, I have asked a young friend, Meghan, to share her thoughts on youth smoking that may shed some light on how our youth views peer pressure and smoking.
Being a member of today’s youth has opened my eyes to the struggle many parents face while trying to keep their kids from smoking cigarettes. One thing is for certain; this is no easy task. However, despite how difficult it may be to positively influence kids on this topic, it is possible to make a difference.
From what I have witnessed throughout my years in school, smoking, along with many other harmful activities, are often portrayed by many kids as “the cool things to do.” There is no doubt that peers at school have the biggest influence on their decisions.
From my personal experiences, I have come to realize that peer pressure takes a major toll on young people today. School can seem like a very cruel world to young kids. It often becomes a place where fitting in with everyone else seem way less terrifying than standing out. Having seen it happen far too many times, I can say that without a doubt, the desire to fit in is a powerful motive that drives kids to try new things, such as smoking.
Unfortunately, kids often tend to fall back on the popular rationale that “everyone else is doing it.” I’m sure as parents, you have heard it many times before. Of course, this is not a valid reason to do anything, but kids don’t exactly see it that way. For them, it is merely a rationalization for certain behaviors that might be questionable to their parents. However, when you think about it, can you really blame them? I’m sure at some point in time we’ve all felt that desire to fit in with those around us or that urge to feel well-liked, which has led us to make some of our less than favorable decisions.
Wanting to fit in is completely understandable but the introduction of dangerous activities is a game changer. This is where parents have to step in and guide their kids down the right path, and this is where things get a little difficult. It is important to realize that your kids will often be struggling with the choice of taking the advice of their parents versus listening to their friends. As I see it, kids are way more inclined to follow the actions or advice of their peers rather than those of their parents, who never knew what it was like to be a kid, right?
The key is to approach your kids with a sense of understanding, and most importantly, trust. When talking to kids about any issue, it is vital that there is a strong sense of trust between you and your child. Accusing them of things they may or may not have done only creates harsh rebellion. As difficult as it may be, give them a chance to explain, in order to let them know that you have some kind of faith in them. This will help keep the communication lines open between you and your kids. Once you clearly establish that you trust your child, they will be more willing to listen to your advice and open up when discussing important issues, like smoking.
What I have learned is there are some important ways parents can help keep their kids away from smoking, besides just talking to them about it. Keeping your kids involved in extracurricular activities, like sports and clubs, is a great way to direct their focus on something positive. This takes away that extra time for kids to wander around looking for something to do, and picking up that first cigarette. Another method I would highly recommend is the use of incentives. Yes, discipline serves its purpose, but it often comes with some undesirable backlash. Instead, try offering rewards for good behaviors, which sheds a more positive light on making good decisions. Whenever kids can get something out of doing the right thing, they will be more inclined to it.
As a final message to parents who may be struggling with kids who have begun smoking, or are considering it, I must say that you cannot blame yourselves. Parents undoubtedly have a very strong influence on their kids at home, but you cannot be with them in the outside world, where the media and their peers also have a powerful influence on their actions. I was raised with strict rules and high morals, and yet this did not stop me from making my fair share of mistakes. After graduating high school and beginning life on my own, I have come to realize just how hard my parents have worked to raise me. So, don’t give up. It will get harder before it gets easier, but know that you can make a major difference in your child’s life, a difference that will stay with them forever.
- Meghan, age 18
I think Meghan has a lot of insight, as well as some good suggestions. A word of caution, though, about the one about “offering rewards for good behaviors.” This sounds like a good idea, but when rewards turn into bribes parents run the risk of teaching their kids to always look for a tangible payoff for positive behavior. This “what’s in it for me” attitude can become a sense of entitlement that doesn’t work well in the long run. The best positive reinforcement comes from encouragement (“I really like how you are thinking for yourself and not just following the crowd”) and the earning of freedom through responsible behavior (“when you keep your agreements, like not smoking, we feel good about letting you go more places, like parties, overnights, and with friends.”)
And yes, as Meghan said, “you can make a difference…”
– Dr. Popkin, age… ahem…