Advice for parents about vaping in teenagers. This common-sense advice applies to all risk-taking behaviour.

Whenever I talk to parents and teachers about vaping, I get a standard answer… “It’s not really a problem with our kids”. However, when I talk to adolescents I get an equally standard answer, “It’s everywhere. Everyone is vaping or exposed to vaping”.

The truth lies somewhere in the middle. However, research tells us that the rate at which vaping is increasing in students aged 14 – 17 years is worrying.

What we know about vaping

  • It is as bad for you, if not more so than smoking
  • Production of vape juice is largely unregulated
  • The percentage of nicotine in a vape can be equivalent to 50 cigarettes
  • The government has yet to create real public education in this space
  • We are already seeing the impact on kids’ health
  • Young people are being directly targeted by vape marketing
  • Vapes and vape juice are incredibly easy to access online and via social media apps. Even when you are on holiday, your child can have vape juice delivered to the door via Snapchat.

 (Centre for Disease Control and Prevention)

How do you prepare kids from an early age to avoid vaping or other risky behaviours?

Your teens are hungry to explore their growing independence from you and to find their place amongst their peers. It is inevitable that they will come across situations where they have choices to make about vaping, drinking, drugs, and other risky behaviours. It should be equally as inevitable that they have conversations with you about these things.

The time to have those conversations is two or three years before they need guidance. There is no point waiting until you think vaping or other risky behaviours are a reality in their lives. For one, you are wrong about the timing (trust me on this!), and secondly, they need years of slow-drip information and coaching before they are equipped to handle those situations. So, start your conversations early!

Kristina Morgan is a clinical psychologist at Lourdes Hill College in Brisbane. She says, “You’re not condoning these activities by talking about them. You’re letting your child know you understand these risks exist and you’ll show up for them and talk about those risks. You are letting your child know, you will be brave and open even if they aren’t, and that you can and will help them manage these and other risky issues as they come up.”

Such an important message!

Ultimately, it is your job to provide ongoing health education. A child should never be in doubt about the effects of vaping, alcohol, and drugs. They should also never be in doubt about your family’s values. That moral compass is essential. Making decisions at a young age is hard enough, let alone if you don’t have a firm handle on what is right and wrong.

Boundaries, boundaries, boundaries

Kristina says, “Ask yourself if your home is an environment where boundaries are clear and well explained.”  Are your family’s rules and values articulated and discussed regularly, not just when things go wrong?

Rest assured; it is completely possible to have clear boundaries while still maintaining a strong relationship with your child. Sure, they may get upset from time to time and scream, “Nobody else’s parents…” or “I hate you. You’re ruining my life”. However, they also learn you value them and care about what happens to them.

Accept the discomfort that comes with setting boundaries. It is far less painful than the discomfort of your child compromising their health and wellbeing, or running into problems with their school or the law.

Kristina Morgan says, “We need to make it clear to our children that vaping is like alcohol and drugs in our house, a no-go zone”. We may also need to make that clear to our children’s friends and the parents of our children’s friends.”

If we are strong enough to make boundaries clear, we encourage other families to do the same. It gives parents permission to follow suit and we end up creating a village of like-minded adults.

Managing risk for our kids

In workplaces, we manage risk with staff all the time, and we need to do the same with our kids. Remember, our children are walking around with brains that are still developing. They are big on exploring but don’t expect them to always make wise decisions once they encounter risk. This is especially true when they are with their peers.

Kristina says we need to manage social situations. For tweens and young teens, she suggests:

  • Encourage supervised, age-appropriate activities.
  • When possible, host your child’s meet-ups with friends in your own home.
  • Don’t allow your child to go out to places with people you haven’t met or whose parents you don’t know. Obtain everyone’s phone number and let the adults know yours.   
  • If you are letting your child go to someone else’s house, call and talk to the other parent. Find out who will be home. Let them know they can call you anytime if needed.
  • If your tween or young teen is meeting peers in a public space like a shopping centre or bowling alley or the movies, find out who is going and what their numbers are. Walk your child in. See who is there. If you are uncomfortable in any way, or your child has not told you the complete truth, take them home. 
  • Think about the amount of money you give your kids and what it allows them to buy.

What if your child is already vaping?

So, you find a vape in your child’s bag, or you smell it while they are in their room with friends. What next?

  1. It is important to first check yourself. Make sure you are calm. You are the adult in the coming conversation, and you need to bring the calm.
  2. Kristina says, “Don’t put off the conversation. Address the issue in the moment, not after the fact. If your child is with others, you still need to address this in the moment. Your child needs to know you won’t back down with an audience and that your values and expectations are consistent regardless of who’s in the room. That might be uncomfortable, but your kids’ friends and their parents need to know that vaping isn’t okay with you.”
  3. There are long conversations that need to happen when the emotion has left the situation. All parents and significant adults need to be on the same page, which I acknowledge is sometimes easier said than done.
  4. Discuss vaping with your child in the wider context of health. Discuss what drove the decision to vape in the first place and how it is impacting them now. A lecture will never have the same impact as a conversation focused on a genuine will to understand, empathise, and guide.
  5. In some cases, your child will be addicted to nicotine. Support them through giving up. Recognise it may be difficult to quit and they are likely to be grumpy during that time. Be understanding, but they do need to know that this discomfort is a natural consequence of their choices.

Final thought…

The ideas and suggestions presented in this article may not sit well with you. You may find them uncomfortable or not in keeping with your parenting style. That’s fair enough. However, I hope there is one truth we can all agree on… Your child is your responsibility. We cannot subcontract parenting out to schools, nor can we sit back and hope our kids find their way. Children are best prepared for life by engaged, loving parents.