The No Smoking Lecture

by Rick on January 23, 2020

A number of years ago, as I was driving north with my nineteen-year old daughter, she said: “Dad, you never gave me the No Smoking Lecture.”
“I know,” I replied. “I always trusted you.”
“But I needed it.”
“What do you mean, you needed it?”
“You do know I smoked, right?”

“No. Well, I guess I remember Mom finding a pack of cigarettes in your room, but I wasn’t worried about it.”
“Why not?”
“As I said, I have always trusted your decision making abilities.”
“Well, you shouldn’t have. I needed the No Smoking Lecture.”
“Really? Why? Are you addicted?”
“No, but I needed it.”
“O.K. I am sorry I didn’t give it to you.”
“No, Dad. I still need it. I want the No Smoking Lecture. Now.”
“O.K. Don’t smoke.”
“That’s not the No Smoking Lecture!”
“But I don’t do the No Smoking Lecture. I don’t even know the No Smoking Lecture.”
“Certainly, you know the No Smoking Lecture. It begins with ‘Listen, Kid. Smoking is a dirty, filthy habit…’ and then goes on from there.”

“O.K.” (I pulled over to the side of the road and stopped because to do it properly, of course, I had to look her straight in the eyes.) “Listen. Smoking is a dirty, filthy habit. It is unattractive. It makes your breath smell bad, and it marks you as a certain kind of person–a kind of person I don’t like, and I don’t want you to be or look like that kind of person. A girl who smoked could never be my girlfriend, and I would certainly never marry one. Smoke will do damage to a fetus in your womb; it will give you cancer and a variety of other serious diseases. In fact, smoking can kill you. I do not want you to smoke. Do you understand?”

“Yes, Dad. I understand.”
“Good.” Then added, “How did I do?”
“That was great. Thank you.”

Apparently, my daughter felt I had “underparented” her by under-communicating my values. I learned: just because we trust our children doesn’t mean we can’t lecture them. They need to hear where we stand; it is useful information for any young decision maker.

If, however, our lecture is an attempt to control our teen’s behavior, we are going to make things a lot more difficult. Just because we define and clarify boundaries to them does not mean we don’t trust them. On the contrary, we are implying that we know that they will make their own decisions; we just want to give them the benefit of our experience. If they have our voice in their head telling them that smoking is bad (or whatever) at least when they are reckless, they will be reckless a little more carefully.

By the time they are 13, we are playing a game of high responsibility/low control. We have to treat them as if they know what they are doing, even though we know that they don’t, quite. It can be a little scary. This apparently paradoxical dance can drive people (parents and children alike) crazy unless the parent understands that taking responsibility for a child does not mean controlling them, and raising children is an exercise in learning from mistakes.

Bottom line: we may be confused, but if we play our cards right our children will show us or tell us what they need, and we will be able to talk about it with them.

How do you talk to your kids?

 

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{ 5 comments… read them below or add one }

Deborah McNelis January 26, 2020 at 5:29 pm

Another great post from you!
Thanks as always!

Brian Hicks January 26, 2020 at 6:38 pm

Oh dear… I think I did some “under-parenting.” And yet I guess it worked out OK! Fortunately, that can happen even if we are less than perfect. (And this was a fun column – I laughed) – Brian

Aimee Giles January 27, 2020 at 11:01 am

This one was particularly fun to read – I, too, laughed out loud. It’s also a great reminder as a parent an 8.5 year old. My daughter is right at the age where we should probably be “lecturing” her more – i.e. making our values more explicit. Not constantly, of course, but when the moment is right. Thank you!

HARTMUT FISCHER January 27, 2020 at 11:04 am

Great post,
I am not sure if I ever told my two sons not to smoke. They did not.
But if I would have had clear signs that they were smoking I would have let them know where I stand on the issue. But you make a very good point.
Hartmut

Rick January 28, 2020 at 2:00 pm

My wife was such a strident anti-smoker that our daughter certainly heard the message even if never directed to her. For drinking at college, she did “get the lecture” and then did her own thing — successfully avoiding dire consequences.
The issue that kids must HEAR the message relates to two incidents at a 1-week summer camp for 6-15 year olds where I have worked recently. First, a group of 4 was (perhaps) a bid noisy and rude to their teacher. Second, was a perky girl who was sassy or bratty during the week. In both cases, camp adults (I wasn’t aware of the issue then) let the behavior fester for a few days, then blew up at them. I believe that in each case all they needed was to “hear the message” when the behavior first became bothersome. Yes, they “should” know better on their own — but they are young teens… In fact, while being severely criticized, the girl asked the director, “Why didn’t you tell me sooner?” At times, “hearing” seems to be a necessary reinforcement of “knowing”.
When security captcha asks me to add IV and three dots, I SO want to answer: VII or seven dots. 🙂

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