"I was just standing next to them": what to do if your child smokes?

May 08, 2019


“I was just standing next to them”: what to do if your child smokes?

“I never thought it would happen in my family, but the fact remains that my teenage son has started smoking. My wife and I are in complete shock, nothing foreshadowed such a turn of events. We, as well as our friends and relatives, do not smoke. We have always brought up our son in strictness and instilled love for a healthy lifestyle. It seemed to us that he shared our values. He is fond of swimming and even wins prizes in competitions, his friends are from good families, he is a good student and is seriously thinking about where to enroll and what profession to choose. Yes, he has some teenage quirks, but everyone has them, and in general he is a very positive boy. And then he started smoking out of nowhere. We are confused and do not understand what to do to discourage a teenager from smoking.”

— Yuriy, father of 14-year-old Roma

Children’s and adolescent smoking is a real problem for parents not least because cigarettes themselves pose a danger to the child’s health. Initially, smoking may mean that the child has some problems in life, perhaps he/she is involved with some bad people and does not know how to say no. Perhaps cigarettes are a way to solve internal conflicts.


If previously only boys started smoking before they were old enough, now teenage girls smoke just as much. Moreover, this is not only a problem for parents of teenagers. Unfortunately, some 11-year-olds and even 10-year-olds now smoke. Either way, it’s an important signal. The problem needs to be addressed immediately before smoking becomes an addiction. In this article, we will explain why children and adolescents start smoking, what to do if a child smokes, and how to cultivate a negative attitude to cigarettes.


  1. Why children start smoking
  2. How can you tell if a child smokes
    • The smell of smoke
    • Cough;
    • External changes;
    • Behavioral changes;
    • Suspicious spending;
  3. The harm to childhood of adolescent smoking
  4. What to do if your child has started smoking
    • What not to do
    • Tips: How to help your child quit smoking
  5. The 7Spsy behavior modification technique as the solution to the problem.

Why children start smoking

As much as some parents want to believe that cigarettes can just appear in the child’s life out of nowhere, psychologists claim the opposite. Smoking in childhood and adolescence does not occur out of nowhere. There are always prerequisites for such behavior. Let’s consider the most common causes of smoking:

  1. Parent example. Parents are the main source of authority for children. Therefore, if the father regularly smokes ten cigarettes a day and the mother silently encourages his addiction, do not be surprised that the child will want to join in family life in this way. Even if you carefully tried to hide your smoking, the child will notice, because children notice everything.
  2. The desire to seem like an adult. The logic of children is very simple. If adults smoke, then I, to become an adult, also need to start smoking. Sometimes the desire to please the opposite sex and look cooler in the eyes of others also plays a role.
  3. The desire to blend in with the crowd. This is especially important for teenagers, for whom acceptance by the society around them is a basic need. Therefore, if your child’s friends smoke, this habit will most likely not bypass him/her. Besides, there is a widespread stereotype in our society that cigarettes promote communication, and this can also influence the teenager’s behavior.
  4. Imitation of idols. Trying to find themselves, children and teenagers often imitate favorite actors, singers or just popular people. However, as is typical of their age, they imitate not their creativity or other achievements, but what is easier to achieve. For example, the choice of clothing to wear or whether to take up smoking.
  5. The inability to say no. Your child may not have planned to start smoking, and perhaps has never liked the smell of cigarette smoke. But if your child is easily persuaded and does not know how to say no, it would be easy to tempt him/her to the “dark side.”
  6. Sometimes children start smoking just out of interest. They are curious about the enjoyment other people find in cigarettes and why they are forbidden. The child may not like it at first, but the desire to “try” a cigarette sometimes wins.
  7. Internal problems. Smoking can be a manifestation of a number of internal conflicts and problems in the family. It can be a form of protest or a cry for help. It might be a way of drawing the attention of parents or coping with stress (especially if members of the family are used to smoking as a way of relieving stress).

How can you tell if a child smokes?

Even if you generally have a good relationship with your child, it is unlikely that he/she will tell you directly about starting smoking. So you’re going to have to play Sherlock Holmes and gather evidence to start a conversation about smoking with your child. Let’s talk about some of the signs that are worth paying attention to. [1]

The smell of smoke

This is the surest way to determine whether a child has been smoking. The smell of cigarette smoke is very persistent, so pay attention to the clothes, especially the outer garments, the breath and the smell of hair. The child may say that he was just standing next to smoking friends, but if you pick up the smell regularly and for some time, do not believe such excuses.


The cough of smokers is very specific, it is dry and sounds hard. If you start to notice that the child is constantly coughing, but there are no symptoms of a cold, it may be a sign of addiction to cigarettes.

External changes

The skin immediately reacts to nicotine. It becomes dry and turns an earthy shade. There may be rashes and cracks on the lips. Also, pay attention to the color of teeth and nails —they may show yellow stains from smoking quite quickly.

Behavioral changes

Has the child become restless? Does your child constantly ask to go outside to “walk with a friend”, and do these walks last only a few minutes? Has your child started chewing gum with a sharp aroma or zealously monitoring hygienic rituals? Does he/she shy away from hugs and conversations alone with you? All these may be signs of smoking.

Suspicious spending;

It is worth paying attention to what the child spends pocket money on. Analyze the spending, find out how much lunches cost in the school canteen. If a child spends money on cigarettes, he/she will regularly spend about the same amount. The child may also start asking for more money without explaining the reason.

The harm to childhood of adolescent smoking

Children and adolescents must know the consequences of starting to smoke. It is the parents who should talk about the dangers of smoking. Here are the diseases and ailments posing danger to smokers, especially children:

  • depression and stress,
  • nasty temper;
  • memory and concentration deterioration, resulting in lower school performance,
  • early hypertension (heart attack) and other heart problems,
  • insomnia,
  • epileptic seizure,
  • weak immunity,
  • skin and teeth deterioration,
  • deterioration of bones and joints, slow down of growth,
  • decreased visual acuity,
  • tuberculosis,
  • shortness of breath, asthma, bronchitis, pneumonia, and lung cancer,
  • allergy,
  • infertility in girls, impotence in boys.

It should be understood that smoking affects children or adolescents more severely than adults, and the consequences can occur much earlier. Finally, if a child already has any chronic disease or predisposition to it, smoking will affect active development.

It is important to understand how exactly cigarettes work, and for this we propose to study the table below, which describes the effect of harmful components on the body: [2]

Dangerous substances

Danger to the body

Diseases caused


Contains carcinogen and substances that irritate the tissues of the bronchus and lungs.

Lung cancer, oral and larynx cancer, chronic bronchitis and persistent cough


It is a narcotic substance and causes addiction

Increases heart rate and blood pressure. Causes physical dependence and withdrawal syndrome

Toxic gases (carbon monoxide, hydrogen cyanide, nitrogen oxide, etc.)

Carbon monoxide is the main poisonous component of tobacco smoke

It damages hemoglobin: making it lose the ability to carry oxygen. The result is chronic oxygen starvation

What to do if your child has started smoking

Of course, it is easier to prevent any problems than to solve them. Alas, this is not always possible. Prohibitions, preventive conversations and personal examples sometimes do not help. Let’s figure out how to break the smoking habit in a child or a teenager.

What not to do

Most often, parents react dramatically after learning about their child smoking. They scold and accuse the child, deprive the child of pocket money, forbid  communication with friends and often initiate “home arrest.” However, this only reinforces the desire to rebel in a teenager, and smoking of course represents a form of rebellion. Such methods will not solve the problem, but your relationship with the child could be damaged and trust lost. [3]

More effective methods are needed to combat child smoking, but if your child continues to smoke, heart-to-heart conversations may be powerless. The child simply won’t believe your exhortations about the dangers of smoking, because he/she will see a living example, and if you try to appeal in the conversation to the age, the child will want to prove his/her adulthood in all possible ways.

Do not try to intimidate the child, because fear is not the best motivation. Instead, explain in a reasoned way about the dangers of smoking and allow the child to make a choice.

In the fight against child smoking, you should also overcome your addiction. You can even invite the child to unite and you can do it together.

Tips: How to help your child quit smoking

Still, how do you get a child to quit smoking? Let’s talk about several working methods of combating children’s smoking, which have been recommended by psychologists:

  1. Talk heart to heart. It is very important to make it clear to the child that you still love them and are ready to help them to get rid of this bad habit. Explain about your feelings: how the smoking behavior upsets you and how the smell of cigarette smoke makes you sick. You can share your experiences and tell how you were able to quit smoking. A teenager will be interested in your story and such a story will be useful.
  2. Tell the teenager what happens to children who smoke and people in general. Explain that the consequences are much more dire than what is written on cigarette packages, and some of the effects are already visible in the child right now. It is also worth sharing your own experience: how cigarettes have undermined your health and how you suffered from something that you found very difficult to quit. Be sure to mention the dangers of passive smoking, that it also destroys the body albeit more slowly.
  3. Try to understand why the child started smoking and what psychological problems he/she is trying to solve. Discuss what else can be done to deal with this issue. For instance, if the child needs to win the respect of peers, it can be done through achievements in sports or creativity. Even teenage rebellion can be implemented in more peaceful ways, such as starting a blog or writing about the concerns. Do not neglect the help of psychologists, since this is a more effective way not only to fight smoking, but also to solve internal problems. Remember that your child needs your full support during this period. [4]

The 7Spsy behavior modification technique as the solution to the problem.

So you’ve found out that your child started smoking: what can you do? The main task of parents is to prevent one-time smoking from becoming an addiction. The best time to deal with the problem is at the very beginning. However, it is possible to overcome the addiction to cigarettes at any stage. It is important to instill in the child or adolescent a negative attitude towards smoking, so that he/she would not try to look for a solution to his/her problems in a cigarette again.

The 7Spsy behavior modification technique is geared towards this. It is a patented behavior psychology technique based on the theories of I.P. Pavlov, B.F. Skinner, A.A. Ukhtomsky and others. This method helps to identify the attitudes that have led to destructive behavior patterns and change them to positive ones.

The 7Spsy behavior modification classes take place remotely with children from 7 years old, take 2 to 6 weeks, and start with the diagnosis of the problem. Throughout the course, a professional psychologist will support you and your child. You will be able to contact the psychologist in online chat, by e-mail or phone.

As a result, your child will be freed from addiction to cigarettes and will learn to say “no” to the bad habit, regardless of the opinions of friends.


Information from this website cannot be used for self-therapy and self-diagnostics. 

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