5 Ways to Talk to Teens About Vaping Now That They’re Home
Strategies to reduce stress while talking about the popular drugs.
Posted Sep 23, 2020
Teen vaping was a problem well before COVID-19. Teens vape more than they use any other drug. In 2019, 28% of high school students reported vaping in the previous month, up 7% from the year prior. That’s 5 million teens who reported vaping in the previous month, and over a million who reported vaping daily. Vaping nicotine is highly addictive and poses health risks, including connections to serious lung illness and death through e-cigarette/vaping-related lung injury (EVALI). Some experts even suggest a link between vaping and worsening of COVID-19 symptoms.
As a researcher in teen substance use, I am often asked how parents can talk to their kids about vaping. Here are some tips, many of which I’m using now that I’m home all day with my three young children, and recommending to my friends and family with teens at home.
1. Get the Conversation Started. Try to approach the topic with a frame of curiosity rather than accusation or anger, even if you suspect your teen may be vaping. Start by asking your kids what they know about the topic. I always recommend using news in the world of vaping to provide a good opener for conversation. You could ask your teen how they interpret relevant news items and share your own ideas. A few good resources to share with the family include Dr. Suchitra Krishnan-Sarin’s TedMed talk on teen vaping, Netflix’s Broken docuseries episode Big Vape, and CNBC’s documentary Vaporized.
2. Ask, Listen, Inform. Once the conversation gets going, the frame can change from “curiosity” to knowledge-sharing. Many people, teens included, still don't know about the dangers of vaping. Try sharing something you’ve read or heard about how vaping is implicated in life-threatening illnesses or how vaping is making teens more susceptible to complications related to COVID-19. Discuss the ways vaping and related substance use are portrayed in the media: Who is doing it and how does it come off? Finally, discuss how vaping is coming across in the lives of your teen and their friends. What pressures have they experienced to vape and how have they handled it? How do they want to handle it moving forward? These questions might be part of the first conversation or sprinkled across several chats -- either way, whether or not your teen has tried vaping may not come up at all early on in your discussions. And that’s fine.
3. Set a Good Example. “I don’t vape, so I’m setting a good example, right?” Yes, that’s definitely true—but how we use and talk about alcohol, drugs, nicotine, or other substances also has an impact.
Many teens say they vape because of the high, and to deal with stress or boredom. We are all more stressed now than we were before the pandemic. Take this opportunity to show your teens that you are using this time to develop a new healthy habit, like working out every morning, rather than stocking up on alcohol. Encourage them to look into meditation apps or recommend an online workout class you’ve tried during quarantine.
4. Let Teens Know Where You Stand and Respect Their Decision. Many parents, especially those who have smoked or vaped themselves, may feel like they can’t tell their teens not to do it. But you should be clear on your “no vaping” stance for your teen, regardless of your personal experience. Just like alcohol, nicotine affects teen brains and bodies differently than adults', suggesting that no teen should ever vape. That is why the U.S. raised the minimum age to buy all tobacco products, including vaping products, from 18 to 21 last year. Your rules should be made and communicated early and clearly. That way, if they are broken, there won’t be surprises when there is a consequence.
5. Tech Can Help. There are a number of free tech-based resources that can help with the conversation and with quitting when teens are ready. Hopelab, in partnership with the American Heart Association and All Mental Health, released Talk Vaping With Your Teen, a free resource that offers the latest and most trusted information about vaping; practical tips for having effective conversations with teens; and techniques to remain grounded when discussing and coping with such a high-stress topic. The tool comes in an email course that offers parents guidance over the course of a month, and an app for those who want to access all the information at once.
And for the teens who are ready to ditch vaping now, free resources include the Truth Campaign’s This Is Quitting program (text “DITCHJUUL” to 88709), the National Cancer Institute’s Smokefree Teen, and National Jewish Health’s MyLifeMyQuit.
While kids are at home (still), there are so many important opportunities to connect. Let’s reduce some of the stress of talking about vaping and move the conversation about quitting forward. This will support teens coming out of the pandemic with fewer addiction problems, not more.
Miech, R., Johnston, L., O’Malley, P. M., Bachman, J. G., & Patrick, M. E. (2019). Trends in Adolescent Vaping, 2017–2019. New England Journal of Medicine, 381(15), 1490–1491. https://doi.org/10.1056/NEJMc1910739