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Ask Rene: My 14 Year Old Son Has Started Smoking!

Dear Rene,

I consider myself a pretty hip mom. My kids and I have great open conversations and I’m happy to say my kids are not embarrassed to have their friends meet me. I feel like the “cool” mom on the block.

But, my “coolness” is being tested. In the last few weeks I’ve suspected that one of my kids is smoking. I’ve come home a few times and thought I smelled remnants of cigarette smoke covered up by the scent of air fresher. I didn’t want to accuse my kids of anything, but wonder if they are smoking.

Last week my suspicions were confirmed.  I came home unexpectedly and walked into my 14-year-old son Josh’s room to find him and his friends smoking cigarettes while listening to music.  Needless to say everyone was surprised. Me, for what I was seeing and the boys because they had been caught. I calmly asked Josh to wrap up the party and tell his friends to go home, which he did.

I haven’t spoken to Josh yet about his smoking and am not sure what’s the best way to approach it. Since kids are known to experiment I don’t want to make a big deal about it.

Rene, how can this “cool” mom have a conversation with her young son about his smoking?


Cynthia, Toronto

Oh Cynthia:

Well I’m glad you wrote but I’m gonna have to be a bit of a hard ass with you. There are two components here, Josh and the smoking and you and your parenting. One has a relatively easy fix (at least with regard to it happening on your watch); the other’s gonna take some work, including soul-searching on your part.

Here we go:

JOSH SMOKING IN YOUR HOUSE: Uh, hmm, how can I put this in a way you will understand. HELL NO! NO, NEVER, NUNCA, NIETE, NO!

You may have heard by now smoking is bad. Bad, bad, BAD! Smoking causes more deaths than car accidents, HIV, drug and alcohol use and murder and suicide COMBINED! It’s also gross and a helluva habit to kick once addicted. Did you know 90 percent of smokers today, started as children and nearly 4,000 kids become regular smokers EVERY DAY? That is stunning and you must do everything in your power to keep your son from becoming part of that statistic. So here’s my advice.

BE THE PARENT! GOOD GOD woman, parenting is not a popularity contest! Your job is not to be the “cool” mom so that your kids will like you; your job is to get them safely and responsibly from childhood, through adolescence and on to adulthood where they will use the skills you’ve taught them to become fine, upstanding citizens. Look, I would be much more popular in this house if I let my son play video games until all the blood vessels in his eyes burst from overuse. I would probably wear the crown for Mother of the Year, if I let my daughter eat all the candy she wanted and only suggested to her that she choke down the occasional veggie. I might even win a spot in the Motherhood Hall of Fame if I let my kids set their own bedtimes, not do schoolwork or bat an eye when they came home failing all their classes. But is that GOOD for them? No. My  job, based on a lifetime of knowledge and information, is to guide, teach and protect them from the things that will do them harm.

WHAT TO DO: You’ve got to fight this battle on two fronts, first with Josh and his potential habit and then with yourself. Honestly, I can’t believe you haven’t talked to him about it already! That needs to  change RIGHT.NOW! Sit this kid down and tell him you will not TOLERATE him smoking and not just in your house; ANYWHERE! Show Josh the data on smoking and kids and explain what this means to him and his future. Teens are notorious for living in the moment so this will not be an easy sell. It might help if you check out some of the very graphic and powerful, anti-smoking campaigns on YouTube. You might also make an appointment with his pediatrician because if he’s addicted, he’ll need help kicking the habit.

For you, time for a reality check. Why is it so important to you to be hip and cool? I think it’s admirable that you and your kids have open conversations; I do that with my own kids. But many experts agree  kids not only need but WANT boundaries. They want to know that whoever is driving this bus called life has more experience than they do and that they have a place to turn when they need help. Can you imagine how disconcerting it is to them, if they go to push boundaries and find out there are none?

Cynthia: I wish you the best of luck but you have your work cut out for you and I don’t think it’s going to be easy. This is going to require you to pull back the reins on a colt that hasn’t seen much of that from you and it’s probably going to get worse before it gets better. But standing your ground is critical now. You’ve already ceded some; you really can’t afford to lose anymore.

Good Luck! Do you have a question for Rene? She has an answer. Click here and fire away!


  1. cam-bibs and baubles

    May 16, 2011 at 12:46 pm

    I totally agree with you. I’m surprised mom hasn’t talked to him about it yet. Think about it this way if your child’s life was being endangered there’s no time to be try to be cool. Same thing here… this experimenting leads to a ugly habit that’s hard to break and could potentially be deadly. Not worth taking the cool route here. Good luck mom!

  2. Rebecca

    May 16, 2011 at 12:50 pm

    Gotta agree with you on this one, Rene! I tell my kids all the time that I am not their friend. My friends are adults. I don’t NEED their friendship. My responsibility is to grow them into responsible adults. That’s going to be a hard problem to fix, but it can be done!

    As for the smoking, I wonder if Cynthia has considered what the parents of the other children will think when they find out their kids were engaging in illegal activity at her house. Has it become legal for minors to smoke? I’d be at the door asking if she was providing a place for them to drink, too!

  3. m.e. johnson

    May 16, 2011 at 2:28 pm

    Oh yes, I wouldn’t want to be in her shoes.

    1) Where are they getting the cigs? Either a store or a young person of age is breaking the law (unless the boys are stealng).
    2) Where does the money come from (unless the boys are stealing)?

  4. Irene

    May 16, 2011 at 4:44 pm

    good point M.E….I think it was good of the mom though to wait to get some advice though better to know how to handle it then to fly off the handle….

    parenthood is not for the faint at heart & wanting to be hip….oh boy…you want your kids to respect you….

  5. Wendy

    May 17, 2011 at 11:25 am

    I agree with everything you said Rene. However, this is going to be a somewhat difficult situation to get a handle on, unfortunately. Since this mom can’t be with her son 24/7, that’s when the sneaking of smoking will occur and the likelihood of addiction increases.

    What I don’t understand is why she hasn’t spoken to the son already about this incident. What on earth is she waiting for? As soon as she started smelling the perfume cover-up, she should had asked her son what was going on! Also, I would have spoken to all of the parents of everyone who was in that smoking room! Doesn’t she want to know how her son is getting his hands on cigarettes? I certainly do! Cigarettes aren’t that easy to come by nowadays. They are expensive and now it’s much harder for a minor, like her son and his friends to go and buy cigarettes.

    I don’t want to come off too judgmental but I also question her parenting skills. I like to have fun with my kids just like the next mom, but one thing is ALWAYS CLEAR…I am the ADULT and their MOTHER, NOT one of their peers or friends. I expect respect at all times and there are rules that they my children must abide by. My kids jokingly call me “Judge Judy” because I do run my household like she runs her courtroom, at times. But I’m also the one who will go running in the backyard in the rain with them, laugh at silly jokes, put wigs and hats on the dog, and play video games with. But I am also the first one they want to lay their troubles down to or seek advice from.

    Like I always said the role of parents is to teach your child how to walk and then how to walk away… as a responsible person into society. I wish this mom the best of luck in explaining that not only is it dangerous to ones health to smoke, it’s also very uncool and a very disgusting habit.

  6. juli

    May 17, 2011 at 12:53 pm

    She’s got a handful. If her son has been smoking for more than a few weeks then he already has a habit. Getting cigarettes is still pretty easy if you want them bad enough. I agree with everyone else that she should have handled it at least that day. I’d cut off money sources for cigarettes and make it a no compromise rule that he can’t smoke anywhere near the house. He will smoke anyways if that is something he wants to do. Please don’t forget that smoking is the true gateway drug. They like to blame marijuana, but cigarettes are usually the first step to drinking or weed. I’d be concerned about that big time.

  7. Robin Emily

    May 19, 2011 at 9:32 am

    I am and always have been the “cool” and the “kool-aid” Mom, which basically means that I let kids hang out at my house, provide snacks, and support their social and emotional growth 100%. I recently chaperoned a group of teenagers at a Wu Tang concert & all the other Moms thought I was nuts (it actually was crazy thinking my body could handle staying out till 3AM)! My story is: 11 years ago my 14 year old started smoking cigarettes. I thought the fact that I had him involved in football/basketball/baseball and didn’t smoke myself would prevent this behavior, then I learned that many of the boys on the teams were smoking. I tried EVERYTHING in my power to stop him. He just became very savvy at hiding his smoking. He is 25 and still smoking. Nicotine is classified as a highly addictive substance and Big Tobacco needs to get young people addicted to survive. It is the same with alcohol, another highly addictive substance. I now know that once your child’s body is addicted to a substance; the cravings that they have are stronger than your love, words or punishments.

  8. David C Freeman

    June 12, 2011 at 6:26 am

    As a Guy who did not start smoking until he stopped doing other things at age 27 and 20 years later, just quit for the first time, (and now has to regain the power to quit again because he slipped), I honestly don’t know that you will get your kid to stop if he is already addicted. On the other hand, now is the time in life you likely have the best chance, or rather HE has the best chance to stop. Before the REAL pressures of adult life start and make it tougher because it then really is a stress outlet and outright addiction.
    ‘d not only put my foot down asap and not give him any money other than to dole out his day to day needs and explain if you catch him spending a cent on it, he will be treated even worse. Sometimes kids need really strong boundaries period. But I’d really talk to him about peer pressure as well as find a way to get him to a safe place to really explain the dangers of smoking in a way he can understand or even speak to someone who has battled cancer, etc.
    But yeah, I quetion the paradigm of being the “cool Mom” to an overextension. It’s one thing to have open communication with your kids. It’s another to lose all control and let them run roughshod over you in your own home. And if he needs the tough love now, now is the time you have to give it to him. Ask him why he feels the need to join in with this. I did NOT join in as a kid, although I tried it once or twice, because I tasted it in the glasses of water our mom served us each night. I still think the scene from “They call me Mr. Tibbs” where sidney poitier sat his kid down and smoked with him until he threw up is a great idea. One of the reasons I did NOT continue to smoke is I got sick one day and never picked it up again until…I did. Ultimately adults make their own decisions. But now is the one time in life you still have the ability to even try and guide your kid to a smarter place, even if he stops being your friend and starts being your kid. Good luck.

  9. David C Freeman

    June 12, 2011 at 6:28 am

    I’d also like to add that although I relapsed. It was so important to me to learn that I COULD stop, even for a couple of months. I now know I can do it again. And so can your kid. It will also be a great lesson in overcoming obstacles and finding his own strength if he can do it too.

  10. Sybil

    July 7, 2011 at 1:08 am

    You should let him smoke it is not worth the fight and I’m a smoker at the age of thirteen and I am just fine and very healthy let him smoke itight be the only thing he can do to get out the stress of living with you.

  11. Ben

    May 21, 2013 at 2:00 pm

    i don’t entirely agree with you there, yes smoking is really horrible, bad and disgusting thing to do, but as a teen, he wants to do his own thing, what i would do i sit down and have a long talk with him about the dangers of it, don’t knowingly aid him in buying cigarettes, but don’t punish him for it, but make him have some respect, if he has intentions of smoking after the talk, don’t allow him to smoke in the house or around you, thats just respect.

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Combing the aisles at Target in search of the best deal on Cheerios, it hit Rene Syler like the stench of a dirty diaper on a hot summer’s day. Not only is perfection overrated its utterly impossible! Suddenly empowered, she figuratively donned her cape, scooped up another taco kit for dinner and Good Enough Mother was born.

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