Q. We recently discovered that our 16-year-old daughter is smoking with her friends. Neither of us smoke and she knows she's breaking a family rule, but we can tell she does it anyway. In fact, she doesn't deny it. She makes good grades, she isn't a troublemaker, and we don't disapprove of her friends (although we disapprove of them smoking). Apart from this one problem, she's not rebellious. How can we get it through her head that smoking is damaging her health and get her to stop?
A. You have told your daughter you don't want her smoking. She smokes anyway. You've told her smoking is bad for her health. She smokes anyway. You've berated her, lectured her, become angry at her, pleaded with her, threatened her and perhaps even offered her bribes if she'd quit smoking. She smokes anyway. What more can you do? Nothing!
Obviously you can't get it through your daughter's head that smoking is dangerous and you can't get her to stop. She will stop when she gets it through her head that smoking is slowly but surely damaging her skin, lungs, cardiovascular system and kidneys, not to mention that it causes one's breath, hair and clothing to smell like an ashtray.
There's an old Irish prayer -- commonly known as the "Serenity Prayer" -- which reads: God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, courage to change the things I can and wisdom to know the difference. I'm afraid your daughter's smoking falls into the first category. Accepting that this is not something you can change would bring you great peace of mind.
In the corporate world, bosses who try to change things they can't change are guilty of what's termed micromanagement. It's well documented that micromanagement in the workplace breeds resentment, distrust, poor work habits, communication problems and conflict. Likewise, the more effort you put into trying to stop your daughter from smoking (i.e., trying to micromanage her), the more deceptive she will become, the worse the problem will get and the more your relationship with her will suffer.
Deep down inside the parent who tries in vain to change something a child is doing (or not doing) almost invariably churns the fear that the problem is somehow due to bad parenting; as in, "If I'd only (done something differently) my child wouldn't have developed this problem." The fact is, children have minds of their own and therefore, free will. Some of the choices a child makes reflect aspects of his or her upbringing, and some do not. In the latter category are those choices which have to do with genetic influences (temperament), the peer group and the often incomprehensible "foolishness" Proverbs tells us is "bound in the heart" of every child. Given that neither of you is a smoker, I'd venture to attribute your daughter's smoking to 50 percent peer group influence and 50 percent foolishness.
Count your lucky stars. Your daughter makes good grades, chooses reasonably good friends and tells you the truth, even concerning her smoking. If the only thing she does to disappoint you during her teen years is smoke, you are fortunate indeed.
John Rosemond is a family psychologist in North Carolina. Questions of general interest may be sent to him at P.O. Box 4124, Gastonia, NC 28054 and at
http://www.rosemond.com/parenting on the Internet's World Wide Web.