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Raising confident teens who say “no” to vaping and other adolescent trends is challenging, but not impossible

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The following is the second 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. Want to skip to the facts? Scroll down to find quick links to the Health Canada resources.

Raising confident teens may be challenging, but not impossible.

In a perfect world, raising confident teens would be easy peasy. In a perfect world, we would thumb through our “How to Raise Perfect Teenagers” handbook until landing on the chapter titled, “How to stop teen vaping — and other unsafe behaviours — in its tracks”; we would read it, say the perfect thing, and our kids would nod and agree and go about their idealized teenage lives.

As. If.

In my experience, teens can be a fickle bunch. Their moods change faster than their Instagram handles and their personalities can take decidedly questionable turns sometimes. While they can be incredibly frustrating and relentlessly exhausting, they are also wickedly funny, mind-blowingly bright, and beautifully talented. They are thinkers, creators, and sharers. They are a force, and it is up to us as parents to help tame the beast and guide them into making smart and informed decisions without sacrificing their sense of self.

How raising confident teens means encouraging your child to make responsible choices without sacrificing their individuality

One of the things my husband and I pride ourselves in with regards to raising confident teens — and parenting in general — is that our kids are open communicators — sometimes annoyingly so. From the 11-year-olds to the 16-year-old, they talk to us about anything and everything. And if it’s not one of us, it’s the other, which is totally cool, as long as they’re talking to one of us. 

Conversations can range from the completely inane, (as in: rhyming off the cost of every sports car we pass on our way to swimming lessons) to hard-hitting topics such as vaping or age-appropriate fashion choices.

It’s not so much the subject, it’s how we react and steer the conversation that matters. While I find my 11-year-old’s obsession with flashy cars eye-rollingly boring, it is his current passion. So rather than ask him to be quiet about it, we turn it into a game while we drive. 

With teens it can be a little more challenging because the topics of our conversations are a little bigger. I found myself the odd-woman-out with respect to my teen daughter’s clothing purchases recently which led me to overreact. After she and I stepped back from the situation and had time to cool our heels, I invited her and my 13-year-old son to give me some feedback on how we, as parents, can improve our general communication. Undoubtedly, if the clothing debacle is the “riskiest” issue I have to deal with, I consider myself lucky. But what happens when teens engage in more risky behaviours, such as vaping?

What my kids suggested was not mind-blowing or off-the-wall. They were simple suggestions and ones that parents can — if they are not already doing so — easily and consciously add to their parenting arsenal. Had I used these tools when speaking with my daughter, we could have saved ourselves a fashion fall-out.

Top 5 ways to get your teen to listen to you — according to teens

1. Be direct, concise, and relevant.

Sometimes my kids’ attention spans are about the same as those of a flea. If I can’t make my point in under 90 seconds, they’ve checked out. My downfall is reverting to “lecture” mode. I know I’ve lost my kid’s interest when they begin fidgeting, staring at the ceiling, and edging towards the door. Imagine trying to have a serious discussion like the risks of vaping and your teen’s eyes have glazed over? Forget it. That’s when resources like the Tip Sheet for Parents from Health Canada are great conversation-starters that don’t require a huge time investment. Brief is best at this age

2. Avoid attack mode.

Hands up if you’ve ever launched into a discussion pointing out all the negative things your kid has done. *raises hand* Case in point: the shopping debacle. The second I dismissed my daughter’s purchases as ill-conceived and inappropriate I was effectively telling her that her individuality didn’t matter. Talk about a #momfail.

Our teens are very susceptible to messages from their peers and social media and, along with the negative aspects of these, there are great examples of online influencers making conscious, positive lifestyle choices without sacrificing their individuality. Take popular youth YouTuber, Molly Burke, for example. Molly partnered with Health Canada in a recent video to share why she decides to buck the trends, from fashion to vaping.

With the right information, teens can make well-informed decisions around topics like vaping and why it’s not for them, and sometimes it helps coming from someone like this, so try sharing resources like these with your teen as a conversation-starter.

As parents raising confident teens, I think we don’t always get it right. Thankfully, our kids are very forgiving and we have the opportunity to learn from our missteps.

3. Keep an open mind.

This is a tough one. It’s always easier to act impartially when it’s not your child. Teens are at an age when they’re not “little kids” yet not-quite-adults. Remember being 17 and thinking you knew it all because you were so grown up? Oh, how the tables have turned. The key to surviving this parenting minefield means keeping an open mind when discussing important topics with your kids in order to keep them engaged and avoid having a situation blow up in your face. 

4. Beware of tone.

Preachy. Self-righteous. Indignant. Sound familiar? From the time they are babies, children are conditioned to react to the tone of our voice. Why would teenagers behave any differently? If you want your teen to listen, step down off your soap box, put away your preacher pants, and speak with them, don’t talk at them.

5. Be supportive.

Always be your child’s biggest cheerleader and source of comfort. By creating a safe place for your teen, they will always feel heard and supported, no matter the circumstance. No doubt we all messed up trying to navigate our way through teenhood. No doubt our parents’ first instincts were to make sure we were okay.

I think our kids, even the smartest and most responsible, will make errors in judgement despite our best efforts. Whether they take the car without permission, or wear too-short shorts, we need to ensure they feel supported — and not judged — as we guide them through even through the most misguided decisions and help them feel equipped to combat social pressures such as vaping.

Raising confident teens in a time when they are bombarded by messages 24/7 whether on TV, on social media, at newsstands, or in peer groups presents unique challenges. But it can be done. What are some ways YOU have navigated some tough teenage moments?

Is your teen curious about vaping? Here are some quick links to help you start the conversation:

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

About Vaping website: www.canada.ca/vaping

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Erica writes with humour and heart about family, #fit40s and living life in the carpool lane. Part-time banker by day and Netflix-addicted-cake-decorator by night, Erica's in-between time is spent dreaming up ways to ruin her kids' lives. Obviously.

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