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On influencing teen smoking, father seems to know best

STOYAN NENOV/Stoyan Nenov/Reuters

Want to prevent your teens from smoking? Get them to talk to Dad.

Children who have heart-to-heart chats with their fathers are less likely to experiment with smoking, according to a new study from Britain's Cardiff University.

James White of the university's school of medicine examined nearly 3,400 adolescents aged 11 to 16 and found that communicative fathers helped reduce the risk of smoking for both sons and daughters. Meanwhile, mothers seemed only to affect their sons, even though they talked to children of both sexes more frequently than fathers did.

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"It's hard to know exactly why fathers had such an impact on children's smoking behaviour," Dr. White said by e-mail. "… However, it appears that children tended to value what time they spend with fathers."

Dr. White, who presented his findings at the British Psychology Society's annual conference last week, used data from a poll called the British Youth Panel Survey.

The participants, none of whom had tried smoking at the start of the study, were asked how often they fought with their parents, how often they shared family meals together and how often they spoke with parents about "things that matter."

After three years, the responses of those who remained non-smokers were compared with those who had experimented with smoking.

The study took into account recognized risk factors for smoking such as household income and parental smoking.

Dr. White suggested mothers might not affect daughters in the same way because they were found to argue more frequently with female children than with sons.

"These arguments may inhibit children perceiving the family unit as ... cohesive and stable, which has been linked in previous research to changes in the amount adolescents smoke."

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