Dear Dr. Wallace:
I really need your assistance. I’m a single mother and have a son who is 14. I am a chain-smoker and have been smoking since I was 14. The boy I liked at the time was 18, and he introduced me to the “enjoyment” of cigarettes. By the time I was 15, I was smoking a pack of cigarettes daily. Back then, finding money to support my habit was not a problem due to the low cost of a pack of cigarettes.
Once my mother discovered that I was a smoker, she wasn’t terribly angry, as she, too, was hooked on cigarettes. I can’t remember when mom didn’t smoke, and she still smokes today. When I was 18, if I didn’t have enough money to buy my favorites, I would “borrow” cigarettes from mom. I wasn’t thrilled about smoking her cigarettes, as I enjoyed smoking my own brand. That’s my history with tobacco: I started early and, sadly, never got off them.
Ever since my son was 10, I told him not to follow in my “footsteps” and to avoid cigarettes. Last weekend, I came home early from shopping and, to my dismay, I caught my son and his girlfriend puffing on my cigarettes. I put him on restriction for two weeks and told him we would have a discussion about not smoking once he has served the full duration his punishment. And that time is almost here.
Please help me to explain why he shouldn’t smoke when his mother does and has no plans to stop smoking. I feel like a hypocrite, and I am, but I love my son so much and don’t want him to have this horrible addiction that I have.
— Mom Who Smokes, Santa Fe, New Mexico
Dear Mom Who Smokes: The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services confirmed in a survey that children whose parents smoke are at a much greater risk of smoking themselves. But when parents who smoke let their children know clearly and repeatedly that they don’t approve, it can be effective, so here are the recommended suggestions:
• Spell out the reason why your child shouldn’t smoke. Keep in mind that he is more likely to respond to the immediate effects — the cost, smelly clothes, yellow teeth and bad breath — rather than the long-term health risks associated with smoking.
• Set consequences for smoking and be prepared to follow through. Let him know that smoking is simply unacceptable.
• Share your story. Talk about why you started to smoke. If you began smoking because your friends smoked, tell him. When you first started, how long did you think you would keep smoking? Has that changed? Talk about your addiction to cigarettes and the effect smoking has had on your health. If you have tried to quit, make sure he knows how difficult it is.
• Tell him that you love him and want the best for him. Explain that you have failed to stop, even though you thought it would be easy to quit. Before you knew it you had fallen into what is now a lifelong addiction, and you want him to avoid your fate.
Dear Dr. Wallace: My mother is a perfectionist. When she is not perfect, she gets really depressed. She keeps telling me that I should be a perfectionist, too, that my life would be much better.
— Skeptical of Perfection, via email
Dear Skeptical: Striving to excel in school, sports or on the job is a worthy and satisfying way to live, but there’s a fine line between healthy ambition and unhealthy perfectionism. Psychologist Norman Monk advises teens, “Being a perfectionist can be one of the biggest blocks to feeling good about yourself.”
It’s hard to like yourself when nothing is ever good enough.
The problem is perfectionists set impossibly high standards for themselves, which merely creates frustration when the highest levels of achievement are not reached — even though the body of work in question is often beyond excellent, even superior.