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So you found that long USB looking thing in your teenager’s car. Or maybe it looks like a marker. You googled. You know that it’s a mechanism for smoking tobacco/nicotine. More specifically, it enables the user to ingest a substantial amount of nicotine REALLY quickly.
If you’ve already read about teens vaping (or Juuling) and now you want to know how to handle it, you’ve come to the right place.
How in the world do you address this with your kids?!
From a therapist’s perspective, here are some general rules to follow:
DON’T FREAK OUT!!! (Okay let me say that again) Don’t. Freak. Out. Please. Your teen watches the way you react to adversity and takes a cue about how they too should react.
Take a deep breath. Of real air. When you breathe, make your belly go in and out with your inhales and exhales. This will slow down your nervous system and allow you to think more clearly after about 5-10 minutes.
Talk to a support person. Maybe this is the person you co-parent with. Maybe this is a friend, or your own parent. Vent about your frustration and your fears. Get all that out with YOUR support people. It will not be helpful to word-vomit this at your child.
Know that use of tobacco products by teens is spreading like wildfire right now. Honestly. The FDA put out recent data that indicates teen e-cigarette use is “reaching epidemic proportions.” It caught the world off-guard, and we’re all trying to figure out how to best address it from a public health perspective.
What this means is: Your teen isn’t a bad person, isn’t stupid, isn’t extra irresponsible or reckless. They are surrounded by the presence of these things ALL the time. It’s tough to navigate that when you don’t yet have a fully developed brain.
When you’re ready, open lines of communication about it. Open with general questions about it – something like “I have been hearing so much about the vaping epidemic with teens and in schools. Are you seeing a lot of that at school?… Do people talk about it a lot? I bet it’s hard to handle that.” Then something like “You know, it would be understandable if you were feeling like you should try it. How has it gone trying to navigate that?”
If you already know they’re vaping, don’t trap them with a question of whether or not they’re vaping. If they’re like most kids, they’ll panic and say “no, I’m not.” (again, this does not mean your kid is a bad kid or out of control)
Key to this: start the conversation with being understanding about the pressures and stress they face every day. Then be honest. “I found an e-cig when I was in your car. I want to talk about it and what’s going on.”
Be curious about their experience (of their world, of stressors around them). “I’m wondering how classes are going. Is anything especially tough right now?” Or “I know you were seeing someone, but I don’t hear about them anymore. Is everything okay?” Or “Tryouts are coming up… how are you handling the nervousness?”
Set boundaries. Maybe you don’t want any tobacco products in your home or cars that you own. Just state that limit, and what the consequence will be if the limit is crossed. This sounds like: “I know things have been tough, and I want you to always feel comfortable coming to me with these things. However, tobacco products are not allowed in our home. If I become aware that there are tobacco or nicotine products here, I will assume that you’ve chosen not to use the car for the following week.”
Follow through. If you set the limit, hold to it. When you set a limit and then go back on it, you are teaching your teen that you don’t mean what you say. Behavior doesn’t change overnight. Be ready for it to take a while. Keep holding that limit!
The big takeaway:
This is a teachable moment. You have an opportunity to show your kids what it’s like to manage emotions even when scared and upset. You can show them what it’s like to talk through tough situations. You can teach them that they are responsible for their actions. You can teach them that you are a dependable parent, and they can trust you to hold steady when they need support.
If you think the tobacco/nicotine use is excessive, if you tried to handle it and it didn’t go well, if you need extra support in knowing how to move forward, we are always here to help.
Katie Zuverink is a Licensed Professional Counselor (LPC) living in Grand Rapids, MI. She specializes in trauma work with kids and parents, and she especially loves coaching adults through difficult parenting dynamics. She also loves working with women’s issues (anxiety, depression, balancing the life of being a woman in today’s world). For more on Katie, read her full bio.