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Why ‘Because I Say So,’ Won’t Keep Kids From Smoking

Submitted by on July 29, 2013 – 8:58 amNo Comment

Encouraging Kids Not to Smoke

How to Encourage Our Kids Not to Smoke

by Michael H. Popkin, Ph.D.

When it comes to our kids, smoking and discipline, it’s tempting to just lay down the law. “No smoking. End of discussion. Are we clear?”

This approach may work while our children are young, but as they grow into tweens and teens, this all-or-nothing approach actually does a disservice to our kids. As parents, we want our kids to behave responsibly, but what does “responsibility” really mean? At the very core of responsibility is the idea that what happens to us results from decisions we make.

Responsibility can be a difficult concept for children to accept. It’s much easier for them (and, while we’re at it, for us) to blame problems on other people or circumstances, or to make excuses. Yet if we don’t take the time to teach our kids to make responsible decisions, we’re inhibiting their growth and perhaps pushing them closer to the behaviors we’re trying to steer them away from.

Helping Kids Develop Responsibility

When explaining what responsibility means to kids, it helps to break it down into three simple categories. Responsibility is:

  • Accepting obligations
  • Knowing the difference between right and wrong
  • Accepting accountability for your actions

Let’s take a look at each of these individually.

Accepting Obligations

Self-sacrifice doesn’t come easy to kids. Of course they’re going to want to go to the pool party instead of to their cousin’s flute recital. We can empathize (because let’s face it, we don’t want to go to the flute recital either) but let kids know it takes courage to pass up some of the fun stuff in life, and that it will pay off in the long run. Once kids internalize the idea that they are responsible for their obligations, they have a solid foundation upon which to make future choices about keeping agreements, such as an agreement not to smoke.

Knowing The Difference Between Right and Wrong

Helping our kids learn the difference between right and wrong, and then choosing to do the right thing as the situation calls for it is part of our jobs as parents. As our kids earn the freedom to make decisions by themselves, they also take on the responsibility to determine what is right. How can you help your kids know what’s right? Taking time to talk with your kids about right and wrong in real-life situations—such as what to say or do if someone offers your child a cigarette—is one way to start.

Accepting Accountability For Actions

It’s much easier for kids to blame their problems on other people or circumstances, or just make excuses. But doing so prevents them from learning to make better decisions in the future. For younger kids, they may learn that the natural consequence of forgetting to bring their bicycle into the garage is that it gets rusty or even stolen. For older kids, they learn that not studying for a math test means they do poorly on an exam. It’s important that we talk to our kids about their natural consequences of their actions instead of either rescuing them (i.e., bringing the bike inside yourself) or saying, “I told you so,” about studying for the math test.

This doesn’t mean ignoring bad behaviors. Instead, form a partnership with your child. The more you can involve your child in finding solutions to problems, the more likely he will feel committed to honoring the solutions the two of you set in place.

How To Encourage Responsibility

The first step in helping your child learn responsibility is to avoid hurting her when she makes a bad choice. We unintentionally teach kids to avoid responsibility because of how we treat them when they confess their mistakes. Often their reward for taking responsibility is blame, discouragement, and sometimes punishment. Punishment does not teach the intended lesson, but instead produces sneaking, blaming, excuse making, rebellion and retaliation. This can be especially true around behaviors such as smoking.

Instead, redirect your child to make a better choice. This doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t discipline your child. Discipline, when done correctly, influences kids to choose more positive behavior to reach their goals. Your child should be an active participant in the discipline process.

Here are some basic guidelines for disciplining your child:

1.    Ask your child to help decide the consequence.
2.    Put the consequence in the form of an either/or or when/then choice. (When you don’t get your homework done each night, then you’re not allowed to watch TV on the weekends.)
3.    Make sure the consequence is logically connected to the misbehavior.
4.    Give choices you can live with.
5.    Keep your tone firm and calm.
6.    Give the choice one time, then enforce the consequence.
7.    Expect testing (it may get worse before it gets better).
8.    Allow your child to try again after experiencing the consequence.

Sending the message to our kids that smoking is an unacceptable behavior is important. What’s more important, however, is that we provide our kids with the inner fortitude to walk away from bad decisions, such as reaching for that first cigarette. This fortitude comes through the practice of teaching our kids responsibility and discipline.

There are numerous resources, such as, that offer daily tips and advice on how to instill these traits and keep kids smoke free. In addition, parents will learn various techniques and simple strategies for boosting morale and self-esteem in their kids—both key traits when it comes to keeping kids from smoking.

An expert in the field of parenting education, Dr. Michael Popkin is the longtime spokesman for Lorillard Tobacco Company’s Youth Smoking Prevention Program, the founder of Active Parenting Publishers and is the author of many award winning video-based parenting education programs.

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