Peer Pressure to Smoke Greater in Middle School

j0178822Approximately 80% of adult smokers started smoking as teenagers. Most parents realize the dangers of smoking and don’t want their child to start. Many parents begin to think about how to address that concern when their teen enters high school. Those parents would be too late according to new research. Peer pressure to smoke is greater during middle school than high school, according to researchers at the Keck School of Medicine of the University of Southern California.

“We thought friends would have more influence on cigarette use during high school than junior high school,” said study author Yue Liao. “But, what we found was friends have greater influence during junior high school than high school. We think the reason may be that friends’ cigarette use behavior may have a stronger influence on youth who start smoking at a younger age. During high school, cigarette use might represent the maintenance of behavior rather than a result of peer influence.”

The message from this study is clear. Parents need to start combating tobacco use once their child enters middle school. Here are some tips for parents to use in preventing their child from starting to smoke:


For teenagers, it’s important to try to prevent them from even starting smoking. Here are some ideas for adults to use in preventing and/or talking to teens about smoking:

  • Be a role model. Studies consistently show that parents’ smoking behavior significantly influences their teens’ decisions about cigarette use. Teen smoking is definitely more common among teens whose parents smoke. If you’re a parent, be your child’s role model and don’t smoke. Also, be sure to tell your teen that smoking isn’t allowed. Your disapproval may have more impact than you think. Teens whose parents set the firmest smoking restrictions tend to smoke less than teens whose parents don’t set smoking limits.
  • Teach refusal skills. Sometimes kids just need to know how to gracefully get out of a peer pressure situation. Try role playing scenarios with tweens or discussing possible ways to help them have confidence in saying no. They need a way to decline without embarrassing themselves or the friend exerting the pressure.
  • Do not allow middle school dating. Middle school students who date report using twice as much alcohol, tobacco and marijuana, compared with their classmates without romantic relationships, a new study finds.
  • Have the “talk.” Tweens can easily see the benefits of smoking– perhaps someone they like is doing it or they think they will look cooler if they do it. It’s a parent’s role to help them see the other side – the negatives of smoking. Start your conversation by trying to understand how your teen feels about smoking. Ask which of their friends smoke. Listen closely to their answers so that you can tailor your prevention efforts to your child’s particular concerns. Then, explain the following:
    • Once You Start, It’s Hard to Stop. Nicotine is addictive. Most adults who started smoking in their teens never expected to become addicted. Nicotine is in all tobacco products (smokeless, hookah, clove, etc.), not just in cigarettes.
    • Smoking Affects Health. Smoking causes cancer, emphysema and heart disease, but sometimes it’s hard for teens to see that far down the road. Try bringing the health issues home to them with the short-term consequences.  First of all, explain that our body does not need tobacco like it needs food or water, so the body often goes on the defense when it’s being poisoned, resulting in many first-time smokers feeling pain or throwing up when they start. Additionally, smokers will almost immediately see these effects: bad skin, yellow teeth, bad breath, reduced athletic performance, and increased risk of colds, flu and other respiratory illnesses.
    • Do the Math. Smoking is expensive. Help teens calculate the weekly, monthly or yearly cost of a pack-a-day smoking habit. You might compare the cost of smoking with that of electronic gadgets, clothes or other teen essentials.


Final Thoughts…

Do not wait to begin talking to your tween about tobacco use. Their friends are approaching them in 6th and 7th grades – you need to be approaching them, too.

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