Teens are hard to scare out of the habit
Ray Lader, a 17-year-old from Punta Gorda, Fla., quit his two-year, 10-cigarettes-a-day habit for a very adult reason: his health. Lader says that the year after he picked up smoking, his baseball stats suffered: "I had fewer doubles and triples because I
Yet Lader is atypical of most teen smokers. Health warnings not only fail to stop teens from starting to smoke 23 percent of the nation's high school seniors now smoke daily, up from 17 percent eight years ago but are little help in getting them to quit, say experts. "Developmentally, your teenager is much more interested in the present than the future," says Amy Beth Taublieb, a clinical psychologist in Buffalo, N.Y. And compared with adults, teens are less likely to be treated with antismoking aids, which have not been tested in young people. So parents trying to help a teen quit need to look for other tools. "Find out what is attractive to your child about smoking and address that concern," advises Taublieb.
Kids smoke to fit in, assert their maturity, rebel, control their appetite, and relieve stress. If the smoking is stress related, figure out the source of the trouble and help the child find other ways to cope. If a teen relies on cigarettes for weight control, Taublieb says, ask how many pounds he or she wants to lose and devel- op a diet and exercise plan.
Parents who smoke can set an example for their kids by quitting. And because teens often listen to their friends, peer-group support can help, says Dave Hurley, a community liaison for teen-smoking issues at Christ Hospital and Medical Center in Oak Lawn, Ill. "When teens hear from other teens that cigarettes are addictive and can cost a lot of money, it really resonates," he says. Hurley says he has helped over 240 kids between the ages of 12 and 18 stop smoking in support groups that last three weeks. Kids set a quit date, work on stress management, and learn about smoking's long-term consequences. About one third have stayed away from cigarettes.
When dealing with a stubborn teen smoker, Taublieb advises parents to keep a cool head. "Stay rational and calm," she says. "If you yell and scream, it will only reinforce it." -S.S.