How to talk to your teen about vaping

young male and female vaping 800x450

Over the last few years, vaping has become a permanent fixture in the news cycle. It's almost impossible to turn on the TV or open up social media without coming across a story addressing the issue of e-cigarettes.

But what happens when vaping is no longer just a headline and is instead something that’s happening in your own home?

How many teens vape in Australia?

Australian surveys indicate that e-cigarette use among teens and young adults has increased steadily over the past few years, with around 14 per cent of 12 to 17-year-olds having tried an e-cigarette.

Naturally, you might feel angry, anxious or concerned that your teen has been swept up in this worrying trend, but what you do next is more important. Here are some effective ways to talk to your teen about vaping, offer them support, and suggest practical steps to help them stop.

Raise the issue in a calm environment

You may have suspected that your teen was vaping long before you had confirmation of it. Chances are you even asked them if they were, and they denied it.

When you notice signs that your teen is vaping, it’s natural to feel upset, angry, frustrated or worried. But using these emotions as a platform to have ‘the talk’ is bound to backfire.

Ways to approach the conversation about your teen’s vaping habit

  • Avoid the ‘gotcha’ moment. It’s best to approach the conversation when you've had time to calm down and think. Most people get defensive when they feel they're being ambushed, but teens can be particularly wary of being ‘caught out’.

  • Pick a good time and place. Instead of calling an ‘official meeting”, think about how to raise the issue in a way that will produce the best results. If your teen tends to open up when they’re alone with you, pick a moment when everyone else is out and the house is quiet. If they find it easier to talk while they’re in a different environment, you could go for a walk together, or take a drive or head to a cafe.

By keeping the chat calm, casual and relaxed at this stage, it’s more likely you’ll have a positive outcome with your teen.

Don't ask 'How?'. Focus on 'Why?'

While it can be tempting to switch to default protective parent mode – ‘How could you DO this?’ – that kind of question can leave your teen feeling guilty at best and angry at worst. Deep down, your teen probably knows that vaping is wrong. But simply telling them it's wrong might not be enough to break through.

Questions to ask that can help you understand why teens vape

Keep it a two-way conversation and try to understand what their motivations might be, as this is the first step in identifying some possible solutions. Try asking questions such as:

  • ‘What made you want to try vaping?’

  • ‘‘How does vaping make you feel?’

  • ‘‘Do your friends vape at school or at parties?’

  • ‘‘Are you feeling peer pressured to vape?’

  • ‘‘Do you think that vaping isn’t bad for you?’

  • ‘‘Do the ease of access and fruity flavours make it feel like a safe option?

  • ‘‘Have you been feeling stressed or anxious?’

Use facts about vaping to frame your concerns

For many teens, the appeal of vaping is wrapped up in a myth that it's ‘not that bad for you’. However, if you can back up your concerns with facts, chances are you’ll be able to shift the tone from a lecture to a conversation. You can read more about the impacts of vaping on young people in this recently published paper.

As a starting point, you can share some of the following facts about vaping:

  • Nicotine, found in many Australian vapes, is a highly addictive poison. It can impact the development of your brain, as well as your memory, learning and ability to concentrate.

  • The e-liquids used in vapes contain a range of dangerous chemicals. They can increase your risk of lung disease, cancer and heart disease.

  • Vapes can increase your risk of experiencing depression and anxiety, a major concern for teens who may already be dealing with those emotions.

  • Vaping can cause vomiting, nausea, coughing, shortness of breath, mouth irritation, lung injury and seizures.

  • Vapes are often labelled inaccurately or not at all. The label may even state that the vape doesn’t contain nicotine and other chemicals, but it actually may.

Websites such as The Lung Foundation, SmokeFree and the Alcohol and Drug Foundation all have evidence-based resources that can help you feel more informed and empowered to discuss the dangers associated with vaping and to bust any myths that your teen may have heard.

Collaborate on a goal

Trying to kick a vaping habit without help can be a big ask, so make sure your teen knows you're in their corner by working together on an achievable goal. Here are some strategies you could try.

Come up with a cutback plan for your teen’s vaping habit

If your teen’s worried that going cold turkey will be too much too soon, try coming up with a plan that’s tailored to their vape intake. For example, you might suggest they go from vaping daily to every third day, and then continue to reduce the frequency as they become less reliant on it.

Use the 4D model

If your teen says the urge to vape comes on quickly, you could explore the 4D model with them. Used to help people who are trying to quit smoking, the model can work for vaping, too. The 4Ds work by disrupting the thinking pattern that drives the craving:

  • Delay acting on the urge to vape.

  • Deep breathe.

  • Drink water.

  • Do something to occupy your mind until the craving passes.

Brainstorm ‘vape swaps’

The physical act of vaping is also part of its appeal. Chat about possible ‘vape swaps’ that could help your teen to busy themselves with something else when their craving strikes. Examples include:

  • twirling a pencil in their hands for a few minutes

  • chewing some gum or brushing their teeth

  • going outside for a quick walk

  • calling or texting a friend

  • doing a puzzle or drawing

  • playing a game on their phone.

Workshop how to say ‘no’

Peer pressure plays a big role in teens being tempted to vape, so you could work together on a few key answers they could rely on in a social setting. Here’s a few examples:

  • ‘Nicotine gives me a headache.’

  • ‘Vaping has been making me feel a bit sick lately.’

  • ‘I’m good, thanks. I’m currently on a fitness kick!’

Prepare for slip-ups

Having ‘the talk’ for the first time is the hard part, and you should feel proud you've crossed that threshold and spoken to your teen about their vaping. But it pays to remember that setbacks are a part of life and that how your teen responds after a slip-up is more important.

As part of your conversation, it's essential to set expectations – such as, you want them to quit, but you're here to help – while also letting them know that you're on their side should they slip up.

If they take a step backwards, keeping the conversation going will help your teen feel supported and more likely to continue being open with you.

For extra support, it can be worth asking other trusted adults in your teen’s life to help out – for example, an aunt, uncle or family friend. If you think your teen needs professional help, it’s a good idea to see your local GP, youth health service, or other health services that can help them to quit vaping.

Go easy on yourself and your teen

By the time your child hits their teenage years, the world is opening up, and that comes with a long list of experiences and temptations. And when you factor in a vaping industry that’s tailor-made to take advantage of young people, it's hardly surprising that many teens are finding themselves exposed to e-cigarettes.

Taking steps towards helping your teen to quit vaping isn’t easy, but the end goal is worth it. Just remember to be kind and compassionate while going about it. You can find out more about self-care ideas for the whole family here.

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