Children often learn by example. They grow up watching Mom and Dad’s behaviors, learning at a very early age how to mimic their elders. In school, the examples shown by peers help to develop children, both academically and socially.
So when it comes to smoking, children might not be prepared to take an individual stance on making healthy choices. Because of this, parents are encouraged to talk with their children about not smoking. The youth smoking prevention program “Real Parents. Real Answers.” - sponsored by Lorillard Tobacco Company - is designed to help parents instill in their children the courage to refrain from dangerous behaviors even when their children are faced with situations where peer conformity is an opposing force.
“The pressures of school, the need to feel a part of the group and even a bit of curiosity all combine together into the perfect recipe for a child to consider making choices his or her parents would not support,” says Dr. Michael Popkin, spokesman for the youth smoking prevention program. “And during the summer months, kids often have a lot of free time on their hands, which may lead to situations where they need to make important decisions. When it comes to making a decision on smoking, children need to have confidence in themselves to say “no” even when it would be more comfortable to say “OK.”
Some tips Dr. Popkin shares with parents include:
* Convey the risks – Share with your children the risks they take in succumbing to peer conformity to start smoking. Help them realize not only the long-term health risks, but other risks that might not be as evident. For instance, though youth smoking still exists, more and more of our youth look negatively on those who smoke and many report they would not consider dating someone who smokes.
* Build their self-esteem – Children with high self-esteem are more likely to take positive risks, like challenging themselves academically and striving to achieve goals they set for themselves. Kids with high self-esteem realize they are too valuable to hurt themselves by smoking.
* Carefully balance encouragement and discouragement – A careful balance of encouraging your child’s positive behaviors, while at the same time discouraging negative behaviors can help build up a sense of confidence your child can call on when faced with adversity or peer pressure.
* Promote independence – Applaud your children for making healthy decisions and encourage them to think independently, even when negative influences are prevalent.
* Promote healthy living - Look for opportunities to teach your child the value of eating healthy, getting enough rest, exercising and other aspects of healthy living. Once kids make the decision to live strong, making the decision to avoid tobacco and other unhealthy behaviors is almost as natural as taking a breath of fresh air.
Parents can also encourage their children to take the “Tobacco-Free Me” pledge, found at www.RealParentsRealAnswers.com. Children can take the pledge to remain smoke-free, and print out a certificate to post and remind themselves of the commitment they made. “Tobacco-Free Me” pledge kits are also available for larger groups of children. These kits include stickers, a moderator guide/lesson plan and a pledge poster for each child to sign.
As the weather warms up this summer, arm your children with the courage they need to feel confident about their choice to remain smoke free.