Dear Prudence: My family and I have a very good relationship with our neighbors, a single mom and her young daughter who is about 10 years old. We exchange desserts occasionally, watch each other’s pets on trips out-of-town, and are generally helpful to one other. Recently, when I went to let my dog out, I noticed that the neighbor and her daughter were on their back porch chatting, each of them smoking a cigarette! I grew up in a family of smokers, and it was apparent to me that this girl was no novice. I’m so disturbed by this. Should I say something to the mother?


Prudence says: This has shades of “Paper Moon,” with its startling scenes of little Tatum O’Neill smoking. If you indeed saw what you think you saw, there is something very wrong in your neighbor’s household. I’m worried that your neighbor thinks now that her daughter is a tween, relaxing with her at the end of the day will come to mean some smokes and a couple of gin and tonics. Yes, it’s possible you were witnessing some odd, onetime occurrence. Sometimes parents who find their kids trying cigarettes use the aversion therapy of making them smoke an entire pack. But your description makes that seem unlikely, and in any case the child is 10 years old!

Usually, I am in favor of a person who has concerns about another’s behavior — as long as it’s not criminal, threatening, etc. — to have a direct conversation about it. But I’m trying to imagine what you say here: “Janice, I noticed the other day that Madison appears to favor Marlboros.” Then if Madison is indeed a smoker, you would feel compelled to report this, and Janice would know it came from you. A mother who would share a cigarette break with her 10-year-old daughter is so lacking in common sense, that I would be concerned about what else is going on in that household.

I suggest you call the principal and say you believe you saw something concerning about a student, which you can do anonymously. If it was a misunderstanding, the mother can quickly clear it up. But when you see a child on the porch, puffing away, you just can’t butt out.


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