Opinion

Parents should be ashamed of online quit-smoking campaigns

Ian Mendes believes parents should be ashamed of their social media campaigns to stop smoking.

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Photo: iStockphoto

Follow along as Ottawa-based sports reporter Ian Mendes writes about the joys of raising daughters, Elissa and Lily, with wife, Sonia. 

Last year, a father in the Boston area decided to have a little fun with his kids with a bet on social media. He told his kids that if they got one million likes on Facebook, he would turn around and buy them a puppy—which he didn’t want to do. So the kids posted a cute photo of them holding up a sign that said, “Hi World. We want a puppy! Our dad said we could get one if we get 1 million likes! So like this!” And then in smaller handwriting it said, “He doesn’t think we can do it!”

Of course this picture went viral and the kids had more than one million likes on their Facebook page in less than 24 hours. The family appeared on Good Morning America in the US and everybody had a good laugh at the expense of the dad, who lost the bet and was forced to get a puppy for his kids.

While that was a harmless little experiment, there are some parents who are playing a more dangerous game on social media. There have been several parents lately who have put their kids on Facebook, Twitter and YouTube with a form of betting that is flat out inexcusable.

There has been a rash of posts lately from kids who say their parents will stop smoking if a webpage gets a certain number of hits. Last week, one of my Facebook friends shared a link to a daughter who is trying to convince her mom to stop smoking.

There are two major red flags for me here:

1. You say that if 100,000 people like this page your mom will try to quit smoking? For 100,000 likes, your mom should promise to stop smoking. Talk about the details being in the fine print.

2. This page has been active for about a year now and only 1,970 people have clicked the “Like” button to date. So, by the time you actually reach the 100,000 plateau, this woman will likely have serious health issues due to long-term complications brought on by smoking.

In the fall, an adorable little girl posted this YouTube video with a simple plea from her parents: If 10,000 people view this video, they will both stop smoking. To date, they have received 42 views on this video—which means I assume they are still smoking. But they will stop if 9,958 people get their act in gear and watch this YouTube clip. Heartwarming stuff, no?

Read more: Be kind: Raising kids in an online world >

And there was this post on the Facebook page “Learning the Truth“—in which the top item is another child holding up a picture which says “My mum will quit smoking if this gets 1 million likes.” This one appears to be a suspicious entry and could very well be a hoax—and yet it has garnered almost 20,000 likes, which is more than the two previous examples above.

These are all alarming examples of parents who have put the onus on their children and complete strangers to get them to quit smoking. And how do you think these kids feel when they realize that nobody out there cares if their mom and dad smoke? That kid from the YouTube video looked like she was nine or 10 years old. She posts a video plea for 10,000 views on YouTube and not even 50 people have bothered to click. Does she blame society for not getting behind her cause? That’s probably the case because her parents are teaching her a terrible lesson that other people should influence your own actions.

Quitting smoking is a very tough challenge—but it’s a personal mountain to climb. Parents should be trying to quit for their children and not for Facebook attention. A plea from your child should be the catalyst for change—not one million mouse clicks from complete strangers.

Read more: How to quit smoking… when you’re a parent >

So the next time somebody puts one of these pleas in your social media timeline, make sure you don’t click “Like”, “Share” or “Retweet”—you’re only enabling these parents to continue making bad choices.