According to the American Lung Association, teen girls begin smoking for these reasons:
- to avoid gaining weight as smoking cigarettes can sedate hunger;
- to feel more independent and mature;
- to help relieve anxiety or stress;
- or because of peer pressure, especially for boyfriends.
Let's take a look at these reasons one at a time. First, smoking can help a person avoid gaining weight. But there are much healthier ways to do that. Good nutrition and exercise come to mind. If you think your teen started smoking because they are worried about weight gain and are having body image problems, start looking into some teen wellness ideas and activities like community sports and healthy snacks.
Teens want the freedom of being older without the responsibilities. For some teens, smoking does this. While parents know that this does not make their teen more independent or mature, their teenager perceives that it does and that's all it really takes. If your teen is feeling the need to be more independent and mature, maybe it's time to talk about having more freedom and accepting more responsibilities. Give your teen more privileges by showing them how to earn them. Getting more freedom often makes a teen feel and act independent - a win-win situation.
Some teen girls feel smoking is the answer to their anxiety or stress. These girls use smoking as a way calm down and relax. While that may be true in the short term, there have been studies that suggest smoking actually causes depression and anxiety. Jeffrey G. Johnson, PhD, of Columbia University and the New York State Psychiatric Institute developed a study of nearly 700 young adults between ages 16 and 22. The study noted that teens 'who smoked at least one pack of cigarettes a day were 15 times as likely to develop panic disorders, five times more likely to develop generalized anxiety disorder, characterized by feelings of apprehension and breathing difficulties and seven times more likely to develop agoraphobia, an incapacitating fear of open spaces' during early adulthood when compared with nonsmokers.
So, if your teenage daughter smoking because she said it relaxes her, it's time to talk to her about healthy ways to relax. Exercise, being proactive and organize, healthy eating and getting enough sleep are all ways to avoid stress. Model these good behaviors for your teen and get active together.
As for peer pressure, that's everywhere in a teen's world. Dealing with peers can be tough but it's not impossible. First you have to be proactive and encourage your teen to have positive friendships - a.k.a. with teens who do not smoke. But, should you teen's friends smoke that doesn't mean that they have to as well.
Teen girls who want to impress the boy that smokes will try smoking. The best way to handle this situation talk to your teen often about the dangers of smoking and set up some logical consequences for the behavior. The hardest part of this will be catching your daughter if she is smoking as she will smell like smoke when coming home from a date with this particular boyfriend.
While it won't be easy to keep your teen daughter from becoming addicted to smoking once she has started, I urge parents to try to the best of their ability. It can take awhile for a smoker to quit, but the benefits start happening right after that last cigarette. So keep trying.