Before I begin, here’s an insight into the reality some parents face.
I really struggle with some of these podcasts. The research is extensive and all the time I'm trying to maintain a balanced approach, rather than being triggered by my own prejudices.
Personally, I was never a smoker, in fact if I was handed one at school I'd break it in half. Why? In spite of the lack of closeness with my parents I knew that they had both smoked and given it up, and despised it. My uncle took me to a histology lab once and I saw a diseased lung that had been removed from a dead body and preserved. That message, of how stupid smoking is and how damaging, got through even without parental closeness. Besides, my mother died of oesophageal cancer. If you saw how that pans out you'd be even more adamant about smoking.
The other thing that stopped me from smoking was that I was given no real boundaries, so I had to create my own. Now I know that doesn't sound like good parenting advice but when you mix it with knowledge and engagement it becomes gold. I tell my teens that they have as much freedom as I can give them, but that if I see they aren't coping with it then I will reign them in. They know that they can come to me because I will offer them support and advice. They also know that I will step in if I think they're making bad choices, and that stops them because the last thing they want is to lose any of the freedoms they have.
This leads me on to how I would respond if I found out one of mine was vaping. The most important thing is to be unemotional, and able to hold an adult conversation. If I didn't feel calm when I first found out I would wait.
I would then consider whether they told me or I had to discover it for myself. I would want to have a lengthy conversation about the background to the vape, where they got it, what they know about the strength of it, what they can tell me about nicotine and it's effects and dangers. I would expect them to inform me otherwise I would inform them.
This is why I went into more detail in the podcast about the context of vaping. It's no good telling our teens not to do it if we don't know much about what they are seeing through their own world view.
One thing I would do, and I know this isn't Susie's approach, is that I would withdraw their allowance entirely. I talked about the allowance in Episode 4. This wouldn't be in any way discussed as a punishment, it would be delivered as an apology.
"I'm so sorry that I have given you too much responsibility to handle. I can see that you're struggling with making good decisions. I'll do your shopping for the next month, ask me for whatever you need and I can buy it, and over that period we can talk about how I can support you in making better decisions. If at the end of the month you have shown that you can discuss the issues with knowledge, and I believe that have a better understanding of how to deal with the pressure to vape, then I will give you back your allowance."
Giving a robust response that you stick to is a very powerful message that someone cares enough to protect them and that there are downsides to vaping that aren't just medical.
I would also want to do a financial breakdown of the long-term cost of continuing to vape. Giving them an idea of other ways in which they could spend their money can be a very helpful motivator. I had a Saturday job at university and worked with a girl who'd given up smoking. One day she was very upset. She told me that she'd just done the sums on how much her smoking had been costing her, and come to the conclusion that if she hadn't smoked she wouldn't be in debt.
If they seem, or are, addicted then it’s very important to look into why. The reason I say this is that I had a fascinating conversation with a man on Twitter who explained that he has only been diagnosed with autism and ADHD in his mid-forties. He has used nicotine his entire life to help himself, and said that if he couldn’t vape he would return to smoking. The question is, what is the nicotine doing to change things for them, and why do they feel they need it? Whatever the situation, a teenager shouldn’t be simply left to medicate themselves and needs proper support.
Helping them to stop vaping is difficult, and relies on them wanting to stop.
Here's the advice given by Mirabella McCall whom I mentioned in the podcast. Of all her points I think the most important is that you need to work with your teen to find their why. Without having a reason to not vape there is a very high chance that they will simply continue. Helping them brainstorm answers for when they are offered a vape, why not vaping doesn't have to be a big statement or judgement of their friends, and explaining to them that their real friends shouldn't care whether they vape or not, can be very powerful.
HER TOP TIPS:
- Give your vape to someone so you can’t use it in a moment of weakness.
- Find your why. Make it inescapable so you never loose sight of it.
- Quitting nicotine is a choice you make every day, have strong coping mechanisms, gum, time with loved ones, watching a new TV show, reading, working out,
- Give yourself rewards and track your progress. Download an app that tracks this. Schedule rewards so that you have something to look forward to.
- Find community, people who believe in you.
- Give yourself grace. You’re retraining your body and mind. This is a temporary struggle to help the rest of your life. When you fall don’t hate yourself, get up and try again.
Things to watch with your teen:
- Big Vape: https://www.imdb.com/title/tt14081634/
- Mirabella McCall: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCwntQaFoIyCttnJ1FNwK12Q
- The anatomy of what vapes do: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IaVaoja2Uk4
- A helpful website: https://teen.smokefree.gov/
- Helpful free app: I Am Sober