Welcome to the parents section of "smoke's no joke". We aim to arm you with all the information you need to tackle family smoking issues.

Peer Pressure

The power of peer pressure

“My daughter didn't really want to start smoking, but she felt left out because all of her friends smoke.”

“My son has a couple of friends who've started smoking, how do I stop him from giving it a try?”

These comments reflect a powerful force which acts on young people often making them take risks that they wouldn't otherwise take. It's the power of 'peer pressure' and it's one of the strongest influences your children will encounter during their school years and is one of the most common reasons young people give for starting to smoke. Research carried out in a sample of Hull secondary schools during 2010 bears this out with 90% of smokers surveyed quoting 'I smoke because my friends smoke' and 79% quoting 'I smoke to fit in' as reasons for starting to smoke.

Smoke signals

Peer pressure to smoke can very easily cross the line to become bullying.

It can be difficult for a parent to spot if their child is being bullied, particularly with a teenager who is typically uncommunicative and more withdrawn from the family at the best of times!


If you suspect that your child may be being bullied about smoking you need to talk to them and you also need to talk to their school. Schools have clear policies on both bullying and smoking and should support you and your child to get the situation resolved.

As a general rule, schools do not allow pupils to smoke on school grounds or to sell or trade cigarettes. Find out what steps your child's school takes to enforce no-smoking policies in school and make sure your child knows too.

Life through teenagers' eyes

Teenagers often overestimate how many people smoke; they think that it's the norm, the 'adult' thing to do when in fact most people in the UK don't smoke. Nationally, fewer than 1 in 4 people smoke, although depending on where you live, it may be more or less than that.

At this age children are struggling with the subtle but important differences between image (how they look, come across) and identity (what makes them the person they are). You can help them to develop their own sense of identity through their image. Youth-culture influenced clothes; hairstyles and music are all part of the image-making process. You may not like the way they look, or their choice of music, but by letting them make some of these decisions themselves, you will have more sway with the ones that really matter, like not smoking. And if they 'look right' they may feel more like they 'fit in' (one of the top reasons quoted for starting to smoke) without having to resort to more extreme behaviours anyway.

Parent versus peer

Like it or not, your child will, at some point, be more readily influenced by what their friends say and do than by anything you say and do. Teenagers need their friends; they understand them and have the common bond of shared experience. You may not agree with all of the decisions your child makes under their friends guidance and all you can do is show them an alternative and a 'way-out' from a bad situation.

As a parent, you can filter the influence that peers exert on your child's decisions. You do this by giving your child support and empathy to build their self-esteem and confidence to do the right thing. Teenagers also need rules and boundaries to make it clear what is and isn't accepted behaviour. It might not seem like you're being listened to at the time, but you have more influence that you think. Local research shows that children are less likely to smoke if parents talk about it, even if they are smokers themselves. When pupils of Hull secondary schools were asked in 2010 to give reasons why they did not smoke, 65% quoted fear of their parents/guardians finding out.

Steer your child towards more positive influences without criticizing their other friends, as it will be seen as a personal attack on your child's judgment.

Empathise with your child's situation. Peer pressured decisions sometimes leave children with no room to manoeuvre – either being on their friends 'wrong side' or their parents.

Imagine your child is with their friends and the spotlight is suddenly turned on them to try smoking. If no one has taught them how to deal with this situation, the easiest way to not lose face is to go along with it.

Talk to your child about what they would do in this situation, and arm them with reasons they can give for not joining in. They could try;

  • “I'm not wasting my money on those.”
  • “I've got (sports) training and the Coach will drop me if he smells smoke on me.”
  • “That (girl/boy) won't fancy me if my breath stinks.”

Your child's range of influences is wider than just their peer group. Sports coaches are powerful allies in denouncing smoking in the interests of fitness, Youth leaders and Teachers support positive behaviours, decision making and choices, and other members of the family are also powerful role models. Engage their help and talk to other parents too, you'll find you're not alone; in fact, you're probably much closer to being an ally than you think.

Smoke's No Joke includes some useful videos which show parents how you can raise the issue of smoking with your children and other examples of how you may not want to approach it.

For more information please refer to the Communication videos

For more information please refer to the Talking about smoking section

For more information please refer to the Young people and smoking section

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