Some kids may see smoking as something cool to do. To them, it’s rebellious, forbidden and exciting.
But the truth is that smoking is just lame. There’s the scary side of addiction: millions of smokers smoking against their own better judgment and best interests, wanting to quit but not managing to get free, suffering from poor health and disfigurement caused by premature aging and yellowing teeth. Before long, the act that was once considered “cool” turns into anything but.
So, how can educators clue children and teens in to the dangers of cigarettes? By using the power of peer pressure.
The University of Bristol, in England, launched a teen anti-smoking campaign in 2010 based on their findings about the effectiveness of peer pressure. They said: “Our research has shown that teenagers respond far better to anti-smoking messages from their peers than they do from the Government, the NHS, their teachers or even their parents.”
Here are some smart ideas for harnessing peer messaging in your classroom, school or home today:
1. Deputize the Popular Crowd
Teachers know who the movers and shakers are among their students; the kids who have the most influence. Well, why not enlist their help? Privately, ask two to five of your leadership-minded students to spread the word (casually, here and there) that smoking is not cool. Rather than giving them a script to follow, invite their advice in crafting some go-to language. Maybe together you’ll arrive at some good lines like, “I think smoking is gross and kids who smoke look silly,” or “You’re way too cool to smoke. It’s ruining your whole vibe.”
2. Showcase the Nonsmoking Status of Big Achievers
Whenever your kids are studying or talking about someone who has achieved something great—in sports, music, politics, etcetera—go ahead and ask: “Do you think this person smokes cigarettes?” and follow-ups like “Could she have done this if she were a cigarette smoker, do you think?” Or “How would cigarettes have gotten in her way or held her back?” This is especially relatable when talking about athletes, as smoking would certainly hinder their ability to perform.
3. Encourage Kids to Share Their Best Stress-Relief and Coping Techniques
Many smokers cite stress as a major reason they turn to smoking. They start because they are stressed (“it seemed like it would be relaxing”) or have social anxiety about fitting in with other smokers. And they keep smoking because they are stressed or anxious (“I just can’t think about quitting now”), and they fail at quitting because they are stressed (“I’ll quit later, when things in my life calm down a bit!”). The better your kids are at accepting stress and alleviating stress, the less likely they will be to try cigarettes as a way to manage stress and to become addicted.
So talk to your kids about coping techniques for those tough days and situations. Techniques might include meditation, deep breathing, daily participation in sports and exercise, pursuing hobbies and interests, talking to friends, writing, drawing, music, and so forth. Kids with fewer coping skills can get useful tips from kids with better stress-busting habits.
4. Let Your Students Have a Little Healthy Competition
Have your students compete in a contest to make the best anti-smoking message possible—either a video, poster, paragraph or radio spot, depending on grade-level and classroom resources. Working individually or in teams, kids can craft messages that will persuade their peers to stay away from cigarettes and other tobacco products. What arguments, facts, images, tone and language will they employ? Let the class choose the winner by popular vote in a secret ballot.