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How a parent reacts when they discover their child is vaping can have a huge negative or positive impact on what happens next. Getty Images
  • Experts advise parents who discover their teen is vaping to react in a calm and measured manner. Ask questions and listen to the answers they give.
  • While there should be consequences for certain behaviors, the delivery of these consequences needs to come from a calm, rational place.
  • Work with your teen to assess whether or not they have a nicotine addiction, and have an open discussion about getting them the help they need.

In December 2018, the National Institute on Drug Abuse released a report detailing a “dramatic increase” in the use of vaping devices by teenagers, stating that 37.3 percent of high school seniors had vaped within the previous year.

Vaping within the previous 30 days had also increased, nearly doubling from 11 percent in 2017 to 20.9 percent in 2018.

Boasting fruity flavors combined with convenient and often easy to hide devices, the vaping industry appears to have reached a successful target market in teenagers.

And while cigarette use among teens had previously been on the decline, vaping has once again increased teen’s interest in, and use of, nicotine products.

That news might be worrisome enough for parents. However, with the latest influx of e-cigarette related lung conditions and the reported deaths of 34 people in 24 states, it isn’t difficult to see why many parents would be upset if they discovered their child was vaping.

Nevertheless, how a parent reacts when they discover their child is vaping can have a huge impact on their behavior.

So, what can parents do to help their child avoid vaping, or convince them to stop if they’ve already started?

Arming yourself with as much information as possible is a good start.

Despite marketing ads claiming e-cigarettes are a safer alternative to smoking, they’re addictive.

Experts also warn that addiction to nicotine at a young age not only makes it harder for a person to quit, it can cause brain remodeling, changing the threshold for addiction to other substances in the future.

Some e-cigarette products, such as Juul, also contain nearly double the concentration of nicotine as regular cigarettes. And according to a recent NPR report, there’s very little standardization regarding what else goes into these products.

In other words, the potential hazards are high, and as of yet, not completely known.

John Mopper is an adolescent therapist and co-owner of Blueprint Mental Health in Somerville, New Jersey. He says his clients report that, “at any given time between classes, there can be 15 to 20 people vaping in the school bathroom.”

This type of influence is important to know about. “As kids turn to teens, it’s natural for them to push back against their parents to assert their independence and to turn to their peers for support and guidance instead,” Mopper said.

That means parents are already fighting an uphill battle when it comes to keeping their teens away from vaping. But starting those conversations early and often may be one of the best ways to keep your teenager from going down that path.

“If parents want their kids to stay away from vaping before they start, precedents need to be set at an early age,” Mopper said.

But he’s not just talking about labeling vaping as “bad” and telling your kids they shouldn’t do it.

“I’m referring to allowing your child to explore and push boundaries starting at an early age, guiding them along the way, and allowing natural consequences to take place,” Mopper explained.

Doing so helps children learn how to make good decisions in the first place, he says. “If a child is kept away from negative things, they never learn the skill of making their own rational and reasonable decisions,” Mopper said.

American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) spokesperson and primary care pediatrician at CHOP Care Network Dr. Brian Jenssen advises parents to consider the example they’re setting as well.

“It’s really about expectation management,” he said. “Not being a smoker and not using e-cigarettes yourself. One of the greatest factors for teens becoming a cigarette smoker is having a parent who is a smoker.”

Beyond that, he says the messaging we send kids about nicotine use is important.

Instead of harping on the dangers of smoking, he suggests talking to teens about how the makers of tobacco products are trying to manipulate them — because no teenager wants to believe they could be easily manipulated.

“It’s also about being involved in the larger public health landscape, raising awareness through school systems and helping to establish regulations to protect teens from the tobacco companies,” Jenssen explained.

One of the most important things both Jenssen and Mopper discuss is avoiding a situation where you might catch your teenager vaping before being aware it’s something they’ve tried.

“Parents should keep an open dialogue with their kids about vaping and create an environment where the teen can feel comfortable going to mom and dad,” Mopper said.

Yes, even if they’ve already tried it.

Jenssen says this requires creating an environment of disclosure.

“If you catch them, that’s more difficult, because if you are, for example, rummaging through their room, that’s more of a ‘gotcha.’ True behavior change happens through nonjudgment,” he said.

Ideally, Jenssen says a teenager should feel comfortable coming to their parents about these issues. But how do parents create an environment where their teens will disclose to them something like vaping use?

“That involves talking and listening, trying to create an environment where a teenager can feel like they can go to their parent for help,” Jenssen said.

He advises parents to ask questions long before the subject of vaping might ever come up, and to really listen to their teen’s answers.

“The last thing we want parents to do is overreact,” Mopper said. “What we’re looking for is a calm, reasonable response.”

He says parents need to check their own emotions in these situations.

“As parents, we love our children, and that love can create a lot of anxiety about them being all right. That anxiety can lead us to then freak out, yell and scream, take away their video games, and put them on lockdown for a month,” Mopper said.

While this might stop a teen from vaping in the short term, he says it can breed resentment toward you as their parent.

“While there should be consequences for certain behaviors, the delivery of these consequences needs to come from a calm, rational place,” Mopper advised.

He adds that it takes time for teenagers to articulate themselves, so parents need to give them space to say what they need to say without jumping all over them.

Additionally, if your child is already vaping, Mopper says it’s important to assess whether they have a nicotine addiction.

“They might want to stop but have a really hard time doing so,” he explained.

Validating that, and talking about options to help them work through the addiction, can be more effective than demanding they stop, Mopper says.

If your teenager has a nicotine addiction, your first step should be consulting with their pediatrician or your family doctor. They can help you determine how serious the addiction is and what options might be available for helping your teenager quit.

Smokefree Teen is another resource with apps and texting options teens can access at any time.

However, both experts emphasize the importance of parents maintaining an open dialogue with their teen as a key component of them getting the help they need and successfully being able to quit vaping.

By approaching this issue with your teenager from a space of nonjudgment, they may more easily feel they can come to you, even when they’re doing something you don’t approve of.