Q: ” I need help. I am foster parent of a 16 year-old boy. He was just caught smoking by his teachers on a outing. I have an urgent meeting with the Principal on Tuesday. What do I do until then? I want to kill him! I am so disappointed. I need advice.”
A: ” My suggestion is to let the anger subside first… Often silence whilst we calm down ends up being the worst punishment for teens as it’s communicates disappointment. The kind of disappointment that doesn’t deserve words. After you feel more calm, then you can address him. Frame your conversation from a point of concern and try to find out the reason for the smoking. Your ability to work on a solution as opposed to a punitive approach may only address the presenting problem, but not the cause. I imagine a consequence of some sort, may apply after the conversation… But the key word is after, as I imagine the conversation may influence the punishment”
” I wouldn’t punish him severely. I was that kid that smoked and did everything double when I was told not to. Just chat to him that it’s not cool, for school, or anything else. A chat, a stern chat.”
” He has clearly had difficulties through his life. As a teenagers, he’s bound to rebel to some extent. The fact that you are taking care of him is very kind but teenagers don’t equate it nor do they do gratitude – it will take some years for him to appreciate you as a ‘parent’. It’s the same for every guardian of a teen. I can assure you that there are kids doing much much worse than this. Discuss with him and give him good advice about smoking – show him the clip of what it does to your lungs. Speak about his health and wanting him to be taken care of. Many teenagers also do this sort of thing at school to look cool as they try to fit in and be edgy. Perhaps he needs to understand how to fit in, in a more productive way. Celebrate that you are not undertaking a far bigger issue and have a lovely holiday with the family. This phase will pass ….”
” Best approach: Ask questions. “Do you know why I’m disappointed right now? Do you think I have a right to be? Why did you do it? What do feel about it? Why do think I don’t want you to smoke, and especially not on a school outing!?! What do you think is an appropriate punishment for making this choice (knowing you weren’t allowed to do this)?”. Having asked these types of questions – calmly, with real feeling – of many a teenager- I’ve often been amazed and impressed by their maturity in response (and sometimes the severity imposed on themselves!). It’s vital, I believe, to give a young person time to reflect and for you to genuinely listen to what they have to say. The gains in mutual respect can not be measured!”
” I’m no expert but I’d include punishments such as: Watching lung dissection videos (of smokers lung vs healthy lung, and preparing spreadsheet calculations for cost of smoking 🚬 per year, and get him to factor in medical bills for smoking related illnesses over the years. Have him look at the reality of being expelled from school – and teen statistics if he ends up elsewhere because of this. 16 is a really tough age to be especially with issues in the earlier years. Foster kid needs lots of real conversation and agreed boundaries more than heavy handed punishment, IMO.”
” The problem (imho) isn’t really him smoking as it is him succumbing to peer pressure. You’ll probably find that he’s not alone. Smoking is a really difficult habit to develop on one’s own. Perhaps he needs to be taught the values of ‘not following blindly’? Punishment will probably drive him closer to his friends and further from you?”
” I work with teens and have my own and as I was smoking and drinking by age 15 I can’t be a hypocrite! (Don’t judge me I am lovely and levelheaded and grew up in the uk -times were different) my approach has been to first ask why. Secondly: I also say if you are going to smoke, then don’t be stupid enough to get caught and smoking at school etc is just daft and not worth it. Then I have a chat about “ Is it worth it – can you afford it, do you want to waste money and addictions are expensive? Do you like having smelly breath and being smelly? Is there something you are trying to prove?” Generally after a level-headed adult to young adult chat just acknowledging this stage of life and attractions to the dark side and peer pressure or whatever it maybe they agree it’s not worth the hassle or any of the above and don’t do it again.
With my own children I have said I really hope they don’t ever smoke. but if they do, it won’t be on our premises and they must earn their own money – then the choice is theirs! So far I have had great results with this approach.
I wouldn’t advise punishment, but suggest you lay out long-term consequences. If they have money for smoking, they can pay for other things in their life, such as sports or clothes or school fees etc. They can then choose the appropriate consequence. And you don’t break up the trust between you! A parent flying off the handle is a recipe for more delinquent behaviour!”
” I smoke. I started smoking shortly after I started high school and speaking for myself here – no form of discipline made me stop. It made me smarter. So I wouldn’t get caught.
He could have started for a variety of reasons that may or may not make sense to you and there’s also a really high chance that he won’t want to discuss it.
Could be because he’s gone through a lot and he’s in fact hurting inside and smoking provides 7 minutes of satisfaction and distraction. He could be doing it to just be cool or fit in or because he’s actually been smoking for a while and has been caught now.
Basically, it’s a personal choice. If he’s already addicted to nicotine than only he can make the decision and convince himself to stop.
It’s tough and I feel for you. You sound very kind and only want to provide him with love, support and care.
The best thing you can do is actually chat to him. Person to person and ask him what he thought of the situation and what’s the way forward because obviously school is really not a place you can smoke and obviously because you care for him and his health. APPROACH is important and makes or breaks your reaction…”
” Let him tell his side first…. from when he started smoking (was he coerced? Was it peer pressure? Was it curiosity? Was it about being cool? Was he doing the experimenting thing?) to when he got to a point of ‘having to have a smoke’ (Is there stress when he does not smoke? Does he feel dependent on smoking? Where is he buying them? Etc.). In other words, put yourself in the position of trying to understand, rather than a position of judgement. Perhaps share some poor decisions you have made in the past and how “facing the music” each time, was both the most difficult and the most “growing“ moment. Focus on getting him to reflect on his choices and what he could/should/would do differently, if anything, and why. And then make it very clear that lying and hiding are not acceptable to you, as trust is so precious, and you want to be able to trust him. Ask him what he needs of you to assist him to make the right choices …. for his health; in terms of following school and hone rules and regulations etc. In no way does he ‘get away’ with anything. But it is in facing it, and taking responsibility, that the biggest learning happens. Practicing self-reflection and metacognition are where the learning happens. And after all… he has done exactly what thousands of teenage boys (and girls) do every day…. giving the middle finger to the establishment. He took a chance and got caught. Now let him face that …. and hopefully, he will realise for himself that he should make amends.”
” I think you should take some time out. You’re angry now. You may just say or do something you’ll regret. I’m not saying smoking is OK but in the Greater scheme of things it could’ve been worse. Rebelling and experimenting with “Things” at this stage is age appropriate. Again I’m not condoning smoking. Just take into consideration teenage hormones.”
” I think we all need to think of the important differences between consequences and punishment. Punishment with teens is most likely to make them more hostile and isolated. We know we need to keep the communication channels open and coming down hard has never made a teenager more well-behaved. Compliant yes, but a defeated child is not a success. I would apply gentle consequences and embark on a long term programme of education and support. Peer pressure is huge, self medicating is rife. I feel sad for teens who smoke – not angry at them. It took our smoker at least 18 months to be supported out of smoking. It took a lot of different strategies and constant attention and focus. A lot of patience too. If at all possible get him some psychological support. They can cope better with all their vices and crutches when they feel they are heard and their pain acknowledged.”
” I am a teacher and i teach in a challenging environment. I have found, almost without fail, that kids don’t respond to severe punishment. They become resentful and rebel even harder. I would say a firm, but assertive, loving approach. If he is in foster care he has had a hard time and is most likely acting from an emotional place. I would say definitely punish him, but let him do something in his immediate community that will be beneficial to his situation. He needs to apologize to his peers and teachers too.”
” Make him chain smoke a packet! He will have such nicotine poisoning he won’t smoke again. Did it to my brother who was 11 years my jounior and wish someone had done it to me when I was 18.”
” Have a chat about smoking and how bad it is, please dont make him smoke or eat it , i had that done to me as a kid it did nothing, i am now 31 and still trying to quit, show him some videos of smokers lungs and the effects of cancer, also ask him why he has started as it may be purely out of peer pressure and the need to fit in, severly punishing him may just perpetuate the problem and make it more inviting.”
” I smoked as a teenager and I can assure you it was the *last* thing on the list of issues that my parents needed to be concerned about. Based on my own experience as a teenager my suggestion is to educate him about the health risks, teach him about laws and regulations about where he may and may not smoke which he needs to observe (one of them being on school outings! It may or may not include your property – I was allowed to smoke outdoors) and then let it go, love him anyway. A foster child may need a lot more evidence of acceptance and unconditional love than most.”
” In the end it is their choice and you can jump up and down all you want, they are still going to make choices you don’t agree with. All you can do is give him all the info regarding smoking, the consequences, no smoking at school or school related activities(just as he wouldn’t smoke in a restaurant) and no smoking in your house. I have realised once they have reached that age it is their choice good or bad and I will not take it as a reflection on me as I gave as we gave them the best of everything and they know the consequences. Gives one peace of mind.”
” He’s a foster child and school should understand that very well, too. This boy has probably been through so much he could write a book about it. 16 is a very tricky age – I hope you both survive it to tell this story later. Please be understanding towards a boy who’s probably got a lot of history to talk about and many situations to deal with. Although smoking is FAR from ideal, it could be far worse.”
” Maybe try loving him instead? This is a teachable moment. Consequences for smoking yes. Severe punishment? Especially in a child who requires fostering… Definitely not. Get creative but you can provide lots of consequences and still make him feel deeply loved. Discuss how you can help him kick the habit together!”
” I don’t see the smoking issue as being the big problem but rather the fact that he is doing what all teenagers are meant to do – pushing the boundaries. He defied the school rules and that needs a consequence – which the school will address. You are going to have to support the outcome of the principal and reinforce the fact that there is a consequence for all our actions. No anger is necessary. Stick to facts: “you have contravened a school rule so unfortunately …….. ” is the consequence. Take it on the chin. As far as pushing the boundaries is concerned – he is testing the waters maybe? Will I still be loved/accepted if I do this? So, despite you having to draw a line in the sand you still need to get the fact across that you are disappointed in his actions – but not in him. Boundaries are vital – they NEED to push against something and our response to this pushing is actually their security. So, if smoking is an issue for you – communicate this with him and then create a boundary eg I acknowledge that you smoke but our house is a smoke free zone and so you are going to have to smoke in the far corner of the garden. We do not want to smell it or even see it. If we see it, we will throw the packet away. So take responsibility! If we smell it we will …….. (some other consequence. It’s a constant trade off!”
” Give him a huge hug and tell him you love him, very very much and that failing is part of working it all out. Tell him you have his back with the headmaster but that you never want to have to bail him out again. Go do something positive together to really let the gravity of your support sink in – he will never forget your faith in him. If he does choose to smoke well that’s his life and those are his lungs after all not yours – millions of very successful loving brilliant people have smoked.there are far far greater sins and worries. Keep the dialogue and the love flowing and be grateful you are in his life to see him through this – it’s your gift. You are not in control, he is.”
” Smoking is a health issue, not a moral issue! The poor boy has done nothing that deserves punishment. So he’s made a poor health decision, but it is his body, not yours, after all.
All you can do is explain you care about his wellbeing and give him info on the damage smoking will do to his health. Lovingly try to persuade him to make better choices. Challenging authority at 16 is totally normal behaviour.”
” I was caught smoking and drinking on a history tour, we were all lashed 6 of the best and had to wear full school uniform for the term… It’s not the end of the world, my suggestion is talk to him, make him feel like he can come to you and chat. Kids will try stuff, my son has tried alcohol, didn’t like it, hates smoking but if he tries it he tries it, all we cna do is advise our kids, if you punish him he will still do it if he enjoys it, you can’t stop him, there are far worse things he can be doing, just warn him about school rules and he needs to abide by them. If we sugar coat life for it kids they wont learn ~ let him get into trouble at school ~ he needs them to punish him…. More important is the fact that he needs to learn to be open with you.”