Question: I am the mother of an 11-year-old boy. I found out recently that he smoked cigarettes with his friends after school one day, cigarettes his friend lifted from his dad.
It really upset me. I am a nonsmoker and I have told my kids repeatedly about the health hazards associated with smoking, starting when they were about 2 years old. I always assumed my kids would never want to smoke.
What should I do?
Answer: We all want to teach our kids important things in life, like staying away from cigarettes. But since you started at age 2 and reminded and reminded and reminded, it is almost a set-up for the kid to do some experimentation.
I always think parents are wise if they use teachable moments – for example someone dies of lung cancer who smoked, and you talk about it in front of them, not at them. Talk about it at the dinner table, so they are listening.
When my kids were little, we would come upon horrific accident scenes. You know the ones, with ambulances and police cars and flares – the kind, quite frankly, I don’t want to look at.
Every time when my kids were little and we would go by one f those accident scenes, I would say, “Drugs,” and shake my head.
My son was in his 20s and I was driving with him in a car when we came upon one of those scenes and he said to me, “Dad, do you think it was a druggie?”
Sometimes, the teaching needs to be only occasionally mentioned, but always tied into the reality that is in your life or in someone’s life that you love.
Now about your son. Let’s not use a shovel when a fly swatter would suffice.
Talk with him about how disappointed you are in what he did. When you say you are disappointed in what he did, you rake coals over that kid. He does not want to know that mom is disappointed in what he did.
Let it go at that.
If this helps at all, the author of this column smoked cigarettes, my first at age 7. We used to pick them up as people threw them out the window of the car. I smoked through high school and finally quit when I was 21.
We did some really dumb things. We used to smoke toilet paper, rolling it tightly and lighting it. One time I didn’t roll it tight enough and the flame went right back into my throat. Talk about letting reality be the teacher.
Kids do some goofy things. But I hope this puts things in proper perspective, and that little Puffy isn’t going to puff any more.
Dr. Kevin Leman is a Tucson psychologist and author of more than 30 best-selling books, including “Have a New Kid by Friday.” E-mail questions to him at firstname.lastname@example.org. Photo by Tom Spitz Photography.