The Family Project: Teens’ smoking
Q. My 13-year-old daughter and her friend were caught smoking cigarettes by her friend’s father. The father got very angry and told my child to go home. As she was leaving the house, my daughter heard the father yelling at his daughter and the sound of her crying. My daughter also thinks her friend was being hit. My daughter is sorry for experimenting, and is very upset about what happened to her friend. I am not sure what if anything I should do. What do you think?
The panel clarified that there are two issues to consider in this question.
The first is the young girls’ experiment with smoking.
The second, and far more sensitive issue, is the potential physical abuse of the daughter’s friend by her father.
“The smoking issue provides a great opportunity for a teachable moment,” panelist Chad Stefanyak said.
Rather than preaching or assigning blame, Stefanyak said the parents could tell their daughter, “Now you know where we stand, and what we expect of you in the future.”
Stefanyak said he would like to know where the cigarettes came from, and whether any of the parents are smokers: “If so, the parents need to ask themselves if the girls are at an age where they need to start locking things up.”
As for the potential of physical abuse, all of the panelists recommended caution.
“I would need more information,” panelist Erin Stalsitz said, echoing the positions of the rest of the panel. “I would look for injury.”
Panelist Mike Daniels encouraged the mother to ask her daughter if her friend had bruises since the smoking incident, or if there were other incidents where the friend was hurt. “The daughter certainly would know that,” Daniels said.
“I’d wager that within minutes both girls were on their cell phones to each other,” Stefanyak said, indicating that the daughter would likely find out what actually happened.”
The important thing, according to Daniels, “is that the daughter listens to her friend and is supportive.”
If there are no indications of physical abuse, the daughters’ parents should reach out to the other couple to have a conversation about what happened,” panelist Denise Continenza suggested:
“Explain that experimentation is normal at this age, and keep in mind that it was both girls who were smoking. If the parents are firm this time, the girls might not be so anxious to experiment with other harmful things in the future.”
When talking with the daughter, several of the panelists said it would be good to explain that there are different parenting styles, and the friend’s father may handle discipline differently than the daughter’s parents.
If, however, there are injuries or other grounds for concern for the friend’s welfare, they should be reported immediately to the Child Line at 1-800-932-0313. All contacts are confidential.
This week’s team of parenting experts are: Pam Wallace, Program Coordinator, Project Child, a program of Valley Youth House; Mike Daniels, LCSW, Psychotherapist, CTS; Chad Stefanyak, school counselor; Denise Continenza, extension educator; and Erin Stalsitz, Lehigh County Children and Youth Casework Supervisor.
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The Family Project is a collaboration of the Lehigh Valley Press Focus section and Valley Youth House’s Project Child.
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