How do you talk to your teenager about vaping?

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Two women vaping outdoor. The evening sunset over the city.

Though researches won’t know the true effects of vaping for years, unfortunately, it is not a big leap to say that vaping is likely to be harmful. We all know about certain drugs to be on the lookout for and talk to our teenagers about. For example, how widespread Opioid abuse has become — reaching epidemic levels — and how horribly it can affect our families. But how much do we as parents really know about Vaping? Sure, it’s recently gotten some attention in the news and you might think you have a handle on what it is, but I think it’s worth diving a little deeper into something that’s become such a part of mainstream culture for our teenagers.

My business partner recently attended a CPR training class taught by Dr. Christopher Byron, founder of the Nationwide Instruction for Cardiovascular Education, aka NICE. NICE provides both the AED equipment and AED/CPR training to thousands of organizations (schools, camps, corporations, etc) and to many First Responders. At the end of the class, Dr. Byron touched on Opioids and Vaping and their effect on First Responders. Based on Dr. Byron’s research, I put together a few highlights that I found pretty impactful.

How does vaping work? E-Cigarettes and “Juuling” devices heat a liquid into an aerosol that uses an inhaler. This vapor contains nicotine (an additive). Teenagers can use these devices in class because, since there is no smoke or smell, they can go virtually undetected. A common practice is to exhale into their sleeves.

In some ways, vaping sounds harmless because it’s vapor, not smoke. However, E-Liquid is NOT water. It is generally a liquid comprised of nicotine, flavorings, propylene glycol and glycerin. When it is heated by the coil, it changes to an aerosol. When measuring the metal levels in the aerosol, research has found traces of the following: chromium, nickel, zinc and lead. According to Dr. Byron, the amount of these metals that is acceptable in your system is ZERO.

Did you know?

  • Juuling and e-cigs are not regulated. The only protection is that they are not supposed to be sold to kids under 18. It is the Wild West at this point — no one knows for sure what is truly in them.
  • One e-cigarette “pod” has as much nicotine as a whole pack of cigarettes. Some kids are averaging 3-5 pods per day.
  • The potent amount of nicotine in e-cigarette liquids may be toxic if it is accidentally ingested or absorbed via the skin.
  • In a recent survey, 1 in 4 high schoolers (25%) said that they have used an e-cigarette in the last 30 days. So if your high-schooler has 8 friends, statistics show that 2 of them likely used an e-cigarette this month.
  • The same survey indicated 1 in every 10 middles schoolers have tried it.
  • Though retailers are not supposed to sell to kids under 18, there is nothing stopping companies from marketing to kids under 18, as evidenced by flavors like Cotton Candy, Tutti Frutti and Sour Gummy Worm. The sheer number of vaping stores opening around schools is further proof of the intended audience.
  • As we know, teenage brains are still developing, so they are uniquely vulnerable to addiction. Not surprisingly, vaping affects behavior, concentration, memory and the ability to learn.

As parents, hearing all these facts probably instills a healthy dose of fear, particularly since it’s something that is so relatively new and wasn’t something you dealt with as a teenager, or even as a young adult. And while you might be tempted to place vaping into the same category as other drugs and alcohol that you want to teach your kids to stay away from, it’s important to recognize how this specific problem might be the most pervasive at your child’s school, and they might not recognize it for the danger that it is.

So, what can you as a parent do about this? What is the best way to talk to your children about the risks of vaping?

For starters, learn as much as you can. It never helps to dramatize a situation, but all the facts are very useful. Once you feel informed, you should open a discussion with your teenager about the dangers. One way to do it is by simply asking them if they know what Juuling is. I tried this myself and discovered that my 16-year-old daughter tried it once last year. She claims that she hasn’t done it since, and because I simply asked her the question and did not judge her reaction, it enabled us to have a mature conversation about it.

Here are 3 tips for starting the dialogue:

  1. Learn as much as you can, read different perspectives and educate yourself on the dangers, as well as the ways in which kids are acquiring it. It helps to understand why something appeals to teenagers before you attempt to judge it.
  2. Open the conversation, don’t close it. Be curious. While the risks may be obvious to you, it is important to allow your child to know they can participate in the discussion. A good rule of thumb: Ask, “Why?” before asking, “Why not?”
  3. Discuss the risks and the long-term health issues. Walk through your concerns. You don’t have to share everything you’ve learned, but you can use what you have learned to shed light on the dangers they might not be aware of. Oftentimes, teenagers want to try something because they are curious about how it works — talking about how it works can assuage the mystery.

At the end of the day, you can’t control what choices they make. What you do have control over is how you respond when they need help. Be the person they can come to, no matter what. Let them know you are there to help them, and the concern around vaping is in their best interest (not in YOUR best interest, but theirs).

People always ask, “When is the best time to discuss this?” and our answer is always: Today is not too soon. As a parent, sometimes you just need to force the issue and have the discussion. You never know where it will lead.

I hope that reading this has inspired you to think critically about whether you could benefit from a therapist. I suggest reaching out and at least exploring the options that are available to you. Reaching out doesn’t always mean that you will find a psychologist the same day, but at least you are taking a step towards a happier, more fulfilling life for you or your loved one.

If you would like me to connect you with one of our expert therapists or dietitians, please contact me. I look forward to hearing from you!

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