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Smoking, Drinking, and Peer Pressure

Child hiding bottle

Aimee Herring

Q: According to my 12-year-old, some of her classmates smoke and drink. What should I say?

A: "Lots of 12-year-olds experiment with tobacco and alcohol," says Linda Braun, executive director of Families First in Cambridge, Massachusetts, a parent support program of Wheelock College. "You should take her comments seriously."

But it's best not to give a rash response, such as "If you try something like that, you'll be in big trouble." This kind of threat may close the door on communication. "Instead, repeat back to your child what you've just heard her say, such as 'Wow! So they're smoking and drinking at your school,'" says Braun. That will encourage her to tell you more, and you can find out what she's thinking or planning to do.

"Eventually," says Braun, "if you keep your comments neutral, your child will get to a point where she asks a question such as 'I think that's wrong; don't you?'" That's when you can jump in with some factual information, followed by a value statement: "Smoking is very bad for you. I hope you never decide to do it. But I'm really proud that so far you've tried to think about the consequences instead of just following the crowd."

All content here, including advice from doctors and other health professionals, should be considered as opinion only. Always seek the direct advice of your own doctor in connection with any questions or issues you may have regarding your own health or the health of others.