Telling your kids to just say no to drugs and alcohol might not be enough, says Alexander V. Prokhorov, M.D., Ph.D., professor of Behavioral Science at MD Anderson.
“Kids today are becoming more and more savvy,” he says. “They want to know why they should say no.”
Prokhorov is MD Anderson’s resident expert on kids and smoking. His evidence-based tobacco prevention website for middle and high school students, Aspire, has proven to influence kids’ smoking behaviors and attitudes.
We asked Prokhorov for insights on how to help kids resist using tobacco, alcohol and e-cigarettes.
What do kids think about tobacco, alcohol and e-cigarettes?
Many kids think of themselves as invincible. They think bad things won’t happen to them.
Most people know that bad things happen when you do drugs. Tobacco and alcohol are classified as drugs because they are highly addictive. But, if you ask most kids about smoking and drinking alcohol, none would call these items drugs. A kid would say, “My parents aren’t bad, and they smoke and drink alcohol.”
And e-cigarettes are another story. Because e-cigarettes -- smokeless electronic devices that look like cigarettes -- don’t use tobacco, many kids think they aren’t bad for them. But e-cigarettes contain nicotine, which is addictive. They can lead to smoking cigarettes or other tobacco products.
For many kids, e-cigarettes are a gateway to smoking. And smoking is a gateway to alcohol use.”
Why should you talk to your kids about tobacco and alcohol?
It’s everywhere. From people online, actors in movies and even everyday people walking down the street.
Don’t assume. Just because your kids are underage and can’t legally purchase cigarettes, alcohol or e-cigarettes, doesn’t mean they can’t get them. Even if you don’t keep them in your house, kids still can find ways to get their hands on tobacco, alcohol and e-cigarettes.
Education is the best defense.
By informing kids about the dangers, you are telling them what they are not hearing from the media and friends. “You’ve got to train your kids to resist peer pressure,” Prokhorov says. “For many kids, e-cigarettes are a gateway to smoking. And smoking is a gateway to alcohol use.”
What is a good time to talk about tobacco, alcohol or e-cigarettes?
Talk to your kids about alcohol, tobacco and e-cigarettes as early as possible. Most kids start experimenting in middle school. Don’t wait until they become teens.
Look for a good opportunity to start a conversation. “This is when the media can come in handy,” Prokhorov says.
The next time your family watches an old movie and the leading actor lights up or you see a commercial with a woman relaxing on the beach with a cocktail, start up a conversation about the dangers of smoking or drinking.
What works when talking with kids about tobacco, alcohol and e-cigarettes?
Here are some tips to remember during your conversation
1. Listen – don’t just do all the talking. Ask your kid what he or she thinks about smoking and drinking.
2. Educate – don’t just give them the stats. Take the time to explain why big tobacco companies want kids to smoke or drink alcohol. Getting kids hooked on tobacco or alcohol increases the likelihood of them becoming long-term, loyal adult customers.
“Work the facts into a meaningful conversation,” Prokhorov says. “It can make a bigger impact on your kids.”
3. Role play – Teach your kids how to respond to peer pressure. Practice with your kids what to say when faced with the decision to try smoking or drinking.
4. Outline the consequences – You can’t make every decision for your kids. Teach them to make wise decisions. Ask them to consider these questions:
- Can I get hurt?
- Can I hurt someone else?
- Is this against the law?
- Can I go to jail?
- How will this affect my health?
What’s the best way to influence your child’s behavior?
If you smoke, make an effort to quit, and limit your alcohol use. The best way to teach your kids to be responsible is to not smoke cigarettes or e-cigarettes yourself.
Request an appointment at MD Anderson's Lyda Hill Cancer Prevention Center online or call 888-774-3020.