By Camila Dos Santos, M.Ed., Program Coordinator of the Healthy Relationships Initiative

Our Healthy Relationships Initiative (HRI) team is excited to partner with Triad Moms on Main on this blog series. In this series, we offer general guidance to relationship or family questions submitted by TMoM community members. If you’ve got a question to ask, please share it anonymously on the form here!

I have recently learned that my teen has been vaping. My teenage son is normally well-mannered and avoids alcohol and drugs. He is very active in school, plays sports, and volunteers in the community. I found out about his vaping habit when I encountered what looked like a flash drive in the pocket of his jeans. When I asked him about it, he was pretty dismissive and acted like it wasn’t a big deal. While I’ve confiscated the “flash drive,” I know that teens have relatively easy access to vaping mechanisms. As a parent, I’m not sure what to do next. How can I get through to my vaping son? ~ Stuck in a Confusing Cloud

Dear Stuck in a Confusing Cloud:

You are not alone. E-cigarettes are now the most frequently used tobacco product among adolescents, according to recent research by the CDC. In 2017, the FDA reported that 2.1 million middle and high school students were using E-cigarettes. That number continues to grow at an alarming rate, with 1.5 million more students identifying as E-cigarette users in 2018 according to a press release published by the FDA. What started as what many called a “healthier alternative to traditional tobacco” products is now becoming a public health epidemic, as news outlets continue to report significant health risks and deaths as a result of the use of E-cigarettes. Sadly, Greensboro is one of the many cities across the nation that can now report a death as a result of vaping.

To address vaping use with your teen, we will focus on a multi-step approach. Like most concerns about unwanted teenage behavior, the first step as a parent is to educate yourself about the concern and understand its appeal to teenagers. By learning about why teens are vaping, you are more likely to feel comfortable addressing the topic openly and honestly with your teen. Further, understanding the behavior prevents you from seeming judgmental or projecting your uncertainties onto your teen. The fact is, vaping is new to educators, health professionals, law enforcement, and parents — and many are finding that they are struggling to keep up with the facts.

It sounds like you are especially confused about finding that your son is vaping because in the past, you haven’t had to worry about him engaging in unsafe behaviors as it pertains to drugs and alcohol. This can be a strength as you approach this situation, as we know that teens who don’t engage in illegal behaviors typically have healthy and supportive relationships with adults, resilient interpersonal skills, a strong connection to their school and community, and a busy schedule of positive extracurricular activities. Therefore, let’s take a second to recognize that you likely have the parenting skills to work through this dilemma since your son is making many positive choices already.

Once you’ve taken some time to learn about the risks and appeal of vaping to teenagers, the next step is to find some time to have an open conversation with your son. Finding the right moment to have the “vaping conversation” can be tough, but with the incessant vaping commercials, opening of E-cigarette shops all around town, and open usage in public, there are many opportunities to engage in a more natural discussion that doesn’t feel pressured or scripted.

Before this talk, make sure you are in a headspace where you are prepared to be patient and are ready to listen. Avoiding criticism, encouraging openness, and keeping a neutral “poker face” will help your teen feel comfortable opening up to you. To encourage openness, parents should think in terms of having a conversation, rather than delivering a lecture. Approaching the conversation from the angle of, “I want to understand more about how you see things,” rather than, “I am trying to figure out how best to punish you and make you stop this behavior,” will lead to a conversation with less pressure, and thus more openness and honesty.   Asking questions about their ideas and viewpoints about vaping can be an effective way to begin the conversation by letting your teen illustrate their perspective. This can be challenging as a parent but can deliver some amazing results in terms of open communication. If he is hesitant to open up, check out this past blog for some general tips on getting teens to talk with you.

While it’s important to give your teen the opportunity to talk freely and openly with you,  as parents, we are also tasked with keeping them safe and healthy. This is why it’s important to make sure these conversations about vaping occur regularly. As a parent, it’s important to recognize that you may not be able to talk about everything all at once. Open communication with your teen is an ongoing dance, in which sometimes the teen leads the dance and other times, the parent takes the leading role. It’s important to have continuous, ongoing conversations about the topic and to encourage your teen to approach you with any questions or concerns they may have.

One approach to help your teen stop vaping is to make sure your teen understands the risks. You’ve mentioned that your son is engaged in athletics, and so it may be worthwhile to discuss the impact of vaping on underdeveloped lungs and how it can affect athletic performance. It’s no secret that teens are more likely to do something if they feel that they are making the decision themselves. By discussing the ways that vaping can affect your teen, you are empowering them with information and giving them the independence to make their own educated choice to stop engaging in the behavior. In a world where younger people are placing greater emphasis on health and wellness, helping them understand how certain behaviors can negatively impact their overall health is a smart strategy.

Modeling safe behavior is a key aspect of encouraging teens to stop engaging in unwanted behaviors. Teenagers are perceptive. They watch adults in their lives closely and use the information they receive to make decisions about their own choices. By refraining from using tobacco and E-cigarettes yourself, and being vocal about your choice to do so, you are leading by example and showing your teen that you believe in the message you are delivering.

Finally, it’s important to recognize that E-cigarettes contain Nicotine, an addictive substance. This means that stopping their vaping habit may not come easy. Helping your teenage son establish strategies to help stop the behavior, such as identifying things that prompt him to reach for his E-cigarette, figuring out how he can counter his cravings, and establishing a system to reward or acknowledge him for successful cessation, can help him stay on track. Visiting your family physician can also be helpful, especially if your son’s usage has been ongoing.

The truth is that vaping is a scary and confusing topic to many out there. By involving your teenage son in the process and empowering him with information, you can work through this issue together as a team.

To read more articles about teens, click here

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