The following is the first of two posts, discussing youth vaping, which have been sponsored by Health Canada in an effort to increase awareness about the harms and risks of vaping. Any opinions expressed herein are my own and all quotes are used with permission from online discussions. Want to cut to the chase? Scroll down to find quick links to the Health Canada resources.
“Teens are vaping?””
I don’t quite recall when the topic of teen vaping first appeared on my radar. However, with four children of my own, one of whom is in high school, it’s a subject that greatly concerns me. Interestingly, not all parents — and these are people I both respect and admire — feel the same. I wonder: is it because some think vaping is harmless? Or that because they dabbled in questionable activities as a teen and turned out alright that they want to allow their kids the same freedom to experiment? Or maybe that these are “good kids from good families” and somehow that justifies the behaviour?
I’m not here to pass judgement but I would like to share with you some vital information developed by Health Canada that might help shape your approach to discussing vaping with your teen. I also encourage you to share these resources with your mom-and-dad friends and discuss it with your spouse or partner to make sure you’re on the same page. My hope is that some of this resonates with you and sparks necessary conversation.
Have teens. Will worry.
As parents, we worry.
My primary goal in life is to keep my kids alive — presumably one snack at a time. Beyond that, it is to ensure they grow into happy, healthy, responsible humans — a challenge even at the best of times. Throw in temptations like smoking, vaping, drugs, and seven minutes in heaven and it’s a wonder I haven’t all gone completely grey from the stress of it all.
So we worry some more.
There’s a whole lot that happens between birth and adulthood before we can confidently send off our kids and bask in the quiet of our empty nest. We would be naive to think they would make it out without hitting some turbulence. Whether you have what some might call a “good kid” or a “challenging child” there will come a time when they will be tempted to do something risky.
And the worrying continues.
As parents, we need to know the facts about vaping.
Teens vaping is a hard-hitting reality. If you have a child in high school, there’s little doubt they’ve either heard of, been exposed to, or even experimented with vaping. And because younger kids notice everything, they also might be seeing what’s going on.
How do I know this? I asked my own kids. Three of the four, including my son, who is heading into grade six, are aware of vaping. I never thought I’d be having this conversation with my 11-year-olds, but here we are. And do you know what? It wasn’t awful. Young kids, though impressionable, are naturally inquisitive and they are very open to having these candid, honest chats.
“My son says all the high school bathrooms smell like candy because of how much vaping is going on.”
My daughter, who just finished grade ten, has witnessed a crazy amount of vaping going on in the backs of buses, school bathrooms, and even in the classroom. And she is not here for it. My daughter and her friends do not vape and, in fact, she says the sickly sweet smell emanating from vaping pens is disgusting. It helps that I have the nose of a bloodhound and would sniff out that shady business in a heartbeat. Seriously, are parents not aware? Or are they simply turning a blind eye?
Essentially, vaping among teens today is what “smoking in the boys room” was 30 years ago. But just because it isn’t cigarettes, does not make it better or any less concerning. It appears to be a growing trend among teens that could be fuelled by many things like defiance of authority, a quest for independence and self-discovery, and a yearning to fit in; and it is one which parents need to understand.
So, what is driving kids to try vaping?
There is no clear cut answer to why teens are vaping. Teens may be pressured to vape by their friends; they may use vaping as a way to de-stress; they may vape out of sheer boredom; or they might begin vaping based on the misguided notion that vaping is safe and, so, “What’s the big deal, Mom?”
Trying to understand why teens do the things they do, despite wielding all your best parenting tools, is like watching the whole Ross-and-Rachel break-up unfold: You see it, it’s breaking your heart, yet you feel helpless to stop it.
Where was this chapter in the parenting manual?
Too often, teenagers can’t see past the immediate gratification of risky behaviour — whether it is the chemically-induced high of a substance or the adrenaline-charged rush of getting away with something dangerous — to the potential consequences of their decisions. They are hardwired to jump first and maybe — maybe — ask questions later. And they do this because, in addition to testing their boundaries, they are either misinformed on the dangers of these behaviours or aren’t aware of the risks at all.
No doubt if kids knew that vaping with nicotine could cause a nicotine addiction, affect memory and concentration, and alter their brain development, among other things — not to mention the risk of a device malfunction — they might think twice. In fact, knowing the risks might actually help deflect peer pressure.
“She confided that she felt pressured to do it.”
The inherent need to feel included, liked, and accepted has been around since the dawn of time — or at least since the ‘80s. It is this need to fit in that is driving teens to make questionable — sometimes dangerous — choices, like vaping.
Add to this that teens are looking at vaping through rose-coloured glasses, barely registering its dangers as a result of misinformation — or no information at all — and you’ve got a recipe for disaster.
Raise your hand if you ever made a dumb decision because your friends convinced you it was a good idea, even though you knew better. Kudos to you if your worst decision was mall bangs and a home perm. (Our poor parents.) Well, guess what? Your kids are going to go through the same thing (except maybe with better hair).
Maybe your teen doesn’t much care what other people think and they are taking up habits like vaping as a way to alleviate stress or even out of sheer boredom. Whatever the reason, how will you handle it?
It is becoming evident that kids taking up this habit are misinformed about the risks associated with vaping. Knowledge is power. If we can show our children the facts, it may actually help to counter the pressure from their peers and help them find more constructive ways to handle stress and boredom.
How to talk with (not “to” or “at”) your child about vaping.
It’s important to understand you are not here to be your child’s BFF. You are the parent. The distinction is that, while you are your child’s home base and primary supporter, they need to understand that there are some “hard no’s”; some non-negotiables. Boundaries: they’re not just for toddlers. That being said, it is important to provide a safe, judgement-free zone to have these big talks — and there will be many.
“I also think teens are hardwired to push boundaries and experiment so I will try to keep doors of communication open.”
To that end, Health Canada has created a useful tip sheet on how to talk to your kids about vaping. So, before you sit down with your child, I encourage you to check it out and get the facts. It’s a quick read and provides a great jumping-off point. If your teen is vaping, be prepared to be met with resistance and a “where’s the proof?” attitude. And if they don’t want to talk to you, call in the reserves. Find someone they trust, to whom they will listen.
The Coles Notes, myth-debunking highlights are these:
While it may be true that, for smokers, vaping is less harmful than smoking, vaping is not for youth and non-smokers. Vaping nicotine, which can lead to nicotine addiction, can alter teen brain development. Since their brains are still developing, children and youth are especially susceptible to the harmful effects of nicotine, including addiction. Exposure to nicotine during adolescence may cause reduced impulse control as well as cognitive and behavioural problems. Vaping may predispose youth to addiction to nicotine and possibly other drugs.
Vaping is not harmless. Yet, many Canadians are trying vaping products. A recent Health Canada survey showed that 23% of students in grades 7-12 have tried an electronic cigarette. Hold on…that’s one in four children. Beyond the nicotine factor, vaping can expose users to harmful chemicals like formaldehyde and acrolein, and metals such as nickel, tin, and aluminum. Vaping can also cause lung damage.
Why risk it? The long-term health impacts of vaping are, as yet, unknown. And if your child challenges you to “prove” vaping is harmful or turns it around on you, ask them: “Do you really want to be the guinea pig?” Shut down the finger-pointing and set a positive example. If you smoke tobacco or vaping products be candid with your teen about the risks, health effects, and perhaps even any regrets.
Stay involved and be supportive.
The teen years can be a bit of a gong show. It’s important to keep tabs on your kids. I don’t mean you need to be in your kid’s face 24/7, but ensure they know you are there. Keep the conversation going with regular check-ins. Ensure your parent-friends understand your stance. Consider, perhaps, getting involved with your child’s school.
Kids appear to wear vaping like a badge of honour, obviously unaware of its potential dangers — or in spite of them. Even still, vaping continues to happen, primarily on the down low. Parents, it’s up to us to be aware of whether or not our kids are experimenting with this addictive trend and to provide a safe space to discuss its inherent dangers.
I am curious to know where you sit on this subject. Are you in the “hard no” camp? Or are you more in the “let kids be kids” category? Whichever approach you choose, I think we can all agree the well-being of our children comes first. I also believe the best way to equip our children to make thoughtful decisions is to first arm ourselves with the tools and knowledge to support them in those decisions. Health Canada has been taking action by focusing on reducing the uptake of vaping by youth and non-smokers. It has also put together some great resources and information for parents, which you’ll find in the links below. So, pour yourself a coffee and let’s open up the conversation.
Teen vaping: Quick links
Vaping Prevention Campaign Page: www.canada.ca/vaping-info
Health risks of vaping with nicotine: https://www.canada.ca/en/health-canada/services/smoking-tobacco/vaping/risks.html#a1
Health risks of chemicals in vaping: https://www.canada.ca/en/health-canada/services/smoking-tobacco/vaping/risks.html#a3
Talking with your teens about vaping Tip Sheet: https://www.canada.ca/en/services/health/publications/healthy-living/talking-teen-vaping-tip-sheet-parents.html