What Parents need to know about their Kids & Vaping

That picture is disturbing, isn’t it?

As a parent, it seems like there’s always something lurking around the corner to threaten our kids’ wellbeing. Kidnappers, devices, Covid, now vaping…or is it just me? I’m not even a high anxiety person so I can only imagine many others are feeling even more concerned than I am about this new epidemic.

As a high school teacher, I interact daily with teens and the teen world so feel I have some information of value to share with you. Vaping has absolutely exploded over the past few years. It’s devastating to think about all the hard work we have done as a society to cut down the use of tobacco smoke, only to have this jump out from around the corner and slap us in the face. In a massive cloud of smoke.

One thing I can assure you is that openly talking with your children about current issues affecting their current and future world is vital.

Do not sweep it under the rug.

Do not think ‘not my kid’.

Do not think this will all just go away tomorrow. It won’t.

You are your child’s best educator and protector. You thought all your learning had stopped, didn’t you? Back to school you go!

One of the biggest issues is that young people aren’t understanding that nicotine vapes are illegal in Australia, unless given on prescription. The reason for this, is that nicotine is highly addictive and governments have learned from past mistakes with cigarettes – to control the sale of a highly addictive substance or face gazillion-dollar health care problems.

So why is it available at all? It was initially thought that it might help addicted people smoke in a safer way. However, the jury is still out as to the damage that is being done to people’s lungs. At the end of the day, vapers (I mean, I’d prefer to call them vapists, but..) are inhaling a gas into their lungs, and judging by the amount of ingredients going in and smoke coming out, it can’t be good!

When discussing with your young person people who use nicotine, I would recommend using the word ‘addict‘ because that is accurate and alarming. Your child will have received enough health education at school to know that to become an addict of anything is a bad thing. They are also familiar with the term due to the p-word and the addictive nature of social media (yes, you need to talk to them about this, too, another time). When discussing nicotine addicts, be sure that your child understands that this means the person is physically hooked, and experiences horrible side effects when they try to quit, such as mood changes, hunger, nausea and that nicotine is one of the hardest substances to quit!

You don’t need to do this in a judgemental way. You can show that you feel sorry for people who are addicted and how if only they had the chance to never start smoking or vaping, they wouldn’t be in this position.

This opens up a conversation, your young person may even say ‘so why did they start?’. And here comes the teachable moments! Get talking!

  • Point out that when kids go through adolescence/puberty (discuss using these terms and discuss openly, so your children see you are open to any conversations they may want to have), they also go through an intense stage of wanting to be liked, so they do things to impress people. If a ‘cool person’ is vaping and offers you one, you could feel like you have to accept the offer, so that you are not considered a nerd or bullied next time they see you. Your kid will soon connect that this could be them one day.
  • Vapes smell quite yummy. (These days a whiff of anything is no longer assumed to be Impulse deodorant or Victoria’s Secret body mist, it’s cause for SOUND THE ALARM SOMEONE IS VAPING!! – Actually, that’s a good idea, we should be installing alarms…hmm) The smell itself can be attractive and even if it was only ‘just one try‘, that sweet fruity smell is going to bring back some happy memories (remember that time a cool person was interested in me!!) – here comes the dopamine flood! Ah, a second time can’t hurt….
  • Life has sucked hardcore these last few years. Young people have been deprived of a fair bit of fun and socialising. Vaping has come along at the right time to be ‘something to do’ and a reason to hang out and connect with people. Make your child aware that finding other things to do and having hobbies and sports can help keep them out of a lot of this ‘hanging around with nothing to do’ trouble. Also, be open to letting your child have friends (the good influences!) over at your place. This way you get to know your kid’s friends, and get to be a good influence on them too – my mum was this person for a lot of kids growing up! If they’re hanging out at your place, guess what, they’re safe! And hopefully having some of that fun they crave.
  • Social media. Yep, it was always going to be involved. Vaping is featured in a LOT of TikTok videos and Snapchats and it’s even better if you know the person in the video…the ultimate currency is if it’s you that is featured. Discuss this with your child. Talk about why the moment they get these apps they will be addicted to them, and will probably be drawn into trying some pretty silly things. If they are a pre-teen at this point, they will be adamant that it won’t be them. This plants the tiniest of seeds that might just sprout to remind them when they need it.

This is where it’s easy to say ‘not my kid’. Nu-uh. Won’t happen to them. But the transformation that occurs when the pubertal hormones kick in means that overnight you may no longer recognise your kid. If you can start speaking now about all the ways vaping is present in a teen’s life, they will be prepared for what’s coming around the corner. Whilst they are still a tween, they have a chance to think, ‘do I want to be that person?’

From personal experience, it can help. I became obsessed with things like drugs and alcohol and HIV in primary school and read a heap of books in the library (proud nerd!) and it gave me a great back drop for when I was presented with risky situations in high school. I also had the benefit of seeing some teens before me make some bad decisions and I was able to connect in my own mind the facts I had acquired plus what I was seeing…despite my adolescent brain. Sure, I took risks, but the facts played on my mind and I bowed out quickly.

Oh, and here’s another thing on top of all that discussion about nicotine addiction and peer pressure – it’s legal to sell nicotine-free vapes. So your child gets to inhale substances into their lungs, but not something that is necessarily addictive. Toxic? Most likely. So there’s another word you can very bluntly use to describe vapes. Toxic and addictive. Illegal, and they damage your lungs, no matter what’s in them. And, the dodgy quick marts that sell these vapes on the street corner, sometimes conveniently forget that the unregulated stuff they bought online from another country, whoops, does actually contain nicotine! So like any hard, unregulated drugs, you are rolling the dice each time you use them. Ask your child if they would do this for a food item, eat it if there was a chance it could make them really sick?

By having these types of conversations with your child and pointing all of this out, you are giving them the best chance to prepare for these challenges when they do present themselves.

But spare them the lecture. Do not come across as the authority who knows best – they won’t come to you for help or advice in the future as you will seem like you don’t empathise or understand them. The best way to start out is to have what seem like inconsequential, casual conversations, like in the car when you see someone vaping, or if something comes up on a device. If they are still at the point where they are open to your advice (ahem, not a teen then!), you could have a more in-depth discussion with them and instead of ‘going on and on’, practise a scenario or two:

“What would you do if…

  • You were at a party and someone brought a vape. They offer you some. (It could even be a year 6 sleepover).
  • You make plans to meet friends at the park and when you get there, everyone is vaping.
  • You go to the toilets at school, and there is a group of kids vaping”.

This gives your young person a chance to plan a response and have it in their back pocket for when they need it. A clever response can often help them escape the nerd net and save face.

Such responses could be:

I think I’m going to keep my lungs but thanks for the offer‘ (seems odd to thank, but appeasing someone in this situation often sees them soften and back off rather than persist)

Been there, done that, don’t feel the need again, but thanks anyway

I really need to pee and Miss is suspicious of me so she’s only given me 1 minute, she even set a timer!‘ (I’ve been known to do that)

I’m actually trying to get fit at the moment so I’ll pass, thanks anyway‘ – kill ’em off with kindness and self-respect.

Don’t think I can, reckon I’ve got long Covid! Now where’s my puffer?‘ (who would’ve thought Covid could be your friend?!)

And if someone keeps persisting and pressuring? You need to plan for that too. “Seriously, are we in one of these peer pressure TikToks? Have you seen those? Are we filming this? <looks around>” (BTW, there aren’t any of those to my knowledge, and I reckon the ‘vapist’ will be feeling low-key out of the loop for not knowing about them…rofl.)

So, that was a lot on the pressures of vaping but it needed to be.

One of the biggest takeaways is talk about this stuff well before the end of primary school. Prepare them for the world they are inevitably going to face. And want to know something else? Young humans’ verbal skills aren’t that great at the moment. They are having less and less opportunities to develop their verbal, interpersonal skills thanks to Covid and devices (nobody is looking up and talking to each other anymore – insert devastated face emoji). So you’re going to need to equip them by getting them chatting. About A LOT OF STUFF. Before their teen brain switches to grunts and groans.

Oh, ok, there’s one more thing. I’m convinced that a lot of issues our young people face these days could be better faced with a much higher self-esteem. There are many, many children out there with very low sense of self-worth. And even more teenagers. I plant this seed with you in the hope that you will take this forth into your parenting, so that your child grows into a teen who says: ‘I’m worth more than that‘.

And with that…perhaps that topic is my next blog post!

The Australian Lung Foundation has excellent resources about vaping, in both parent and young people-friendly language. Happy Reading!

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