Getting your teen to talk about the dangers of vaping

The question took on new urgency. Health authorities are investigating 530 confirmed and probable cases lung disease in the United States linked to electronic cigarettes. Eight people died. Many teens use e-cigarettes: 27.5% of high school students have used them in the past 30 days, according to preliminary data of the 2019 National Youth Smoking Survey released earlier this month. This represents an increase from 20.8% in 2018.

The new dangers of vaping and omnipresence in high schools– and even colleges – arouse understandable parental concern. But parents need to be strategic when telling their children about e-cigarettes, say psychologists and pediatricians. Here are a few tips:

Don’t be blunt

A parent’s first instinct may be to blurt out, “Are you vaping? Or “You better not vape.” However, starting the conversation this way is not likely to be successful or provide the information you are looking for.

“There’s a good chance they’ll deny it” if they use electronic cigarettes, says Bonnie Halpern-Felsher, professor of pediatrics at Stanford University and founder and executive director of its Tobacco Prevention Toolkit. “Young people don’t want to disappoint their parents and they’re afraid of getting into trouble.

Instead, Dr Halpern-Felsher suggests that parents start with the news and use it to start a back-and-forth with their child. “Now is a great time for parents to say, ‘I have heard about all the deaths and illnesses associated with electronic cigarettes. I am really worried. have you heard of this? What do you know ?, ‘”she said. And make sure you’re not doing all the talking.

Teens may be more likely to open up if parents ask what’s going on at school and among their friends. “They are more likely to talk about it than themselves,” says Sarper Taskiran, a child and adolescent psychiatrist at the Child Mind Institute in New York. When parents take a more curious, non-judgmental stance, kids will be more willing to talk and even disclose if they’ve tried e-cigarettes, he says.

Meredith Berkman, Dorian Fuhrman, and Dina Alessi founded Parents Against Vaping E-cigarettes because they were concerned about marketing flavored e-cigarettes to children, including their own teenage sons.


Sasha Maslov for the Wall Street Journal

Avoid scary tactics

Once teens talk about vaping, one of the biggest mistakes parents make is exaggerating the very real dangers. “If you start by saying ‘You’re going to die’ they tend not to believe you,” says Jonathan Avery, director of addiction psychiatry at Weill Cornell Medical College in New York City, who runs monthly information sessions. for parents on electronic cigarettes. in the pediatric ward at Weill Cornell.

It is important for parents to educate themselves about the real risks of e-cigarettes for adolescents, such as the harmful effects of nicotine on brain development and how it can increase the risk of other addictive behaviors, and learn some of the terminology. the Centers for Disaster Control and Prevention is a good resource. This way they can calmly give children precise information– and dispel any misinformation the teens have picked up.

One message that particularly resonates with children is the way they are targeted by e-cigarette companies, with candy flavors and promotion by cool-looking influencers, says Dr Taskiran of the Child Mind Institute. “Teenagers are at an age where they want to be in control and they want to be independent. Stressing that [those who vape] being controlled by a multi-billion dollar company is something that upsets them, ”he says.

Altria, the maker of Marlboro cigarettes, recently invested nearly $ 13 billion in e-cigarette company Juul. Some experts say that in its early days, Juul drew on the tobacco industry’s promotional manual in an attempt to attract young people. Photo: Natalia V. Osipova / The Wall Street Journal

Be persistent

This is not a one-off conversation. Keep the lines of communication open, says Dr. Halpern-Felsher. She also recommends that parents encourage children to talk to another adult – a favorite aunt, teacher, older brother or sister – if they feel they can’t share their concerns with them. parents. “You give them permission to reach out,” she said. And with more college kids trying e-cigarettes, Dr. Avery says start the conversation with your kids early, before the age of 9.

Share your thoughts

How can parents persuade their children not to use electronic cigarettes? Join the conversation below.

It’s not just risk takers who use e-cigarettes. “No parent in America can say for sure that their child does not use these devices,” says Meredith Berkman, founder of the advocacy and education group Parents Against Vaping E-cigarettes.

Stay calm

What to do if you find out that your child is vaping? If this is a first time offense, stay calm and resist the urge to punish, says Mary Alvord, psychologist in Rockville, Md., And author of “Conquer Negative Thinking for Teens.”

“Say, ‘I’m so glad you trust me enough to tell me this’ instead of being critical and critical. Because we know if that’s the way you answer, are they going to come back to you and share something? Not likely, ”she said. Punishment causes children to “get more devious.”

Then ask questions to try to find out why teens might be vaping. Is it because their friends are doing it and they want to fit in? Are they anxious or depressed and do they use e-cigarettes to try to alleviate these feelings? Knowing their motivation can help parents and teens think of other, healthier ways to meet those needs, says Dr. Alvord.

It’s best for parents and teens to work together to find an appropriate consequence – loss of car privileges, for example – if the teenager vapes again, says Karen Wilson, division chief of pediatrics at medical school. Icahn of Mount Sinai in New York and President of the American Academy of Pediatrics’ Tobacco Consortium. “Let them help decide” the consequences of use. “They will have a little more self-efficacy.”

Doctors recommend that parents learn about vaping terminology and health risks so that they can give teens accurate information.


Steven Senne / Associated press

Know when to get help

If your child cannot stop using e-cigarettes, or if there may be underlying anxiety or depression, talk to your pediatrician. Adolescents can be addicted to nicotine. Although the FDA has not approved nicotine patches or gums for children under the age of 18, some doctors use them with children who have developed a physical dependence.

Talk therapy, such as motivational interviewing or cognitive behavioral therapy, can treat substance abuse, anxiety, and depression.

Dr Avery de Weill Cornell says more clinicians and families are using regular urine tests (which you do in a lab or buy over the counter) to test for nicotine. He says parents can sell the idea as a replacement for more intrusive surveillance, like searching a teenager’s room.

“It takes the conflict out of the house,” he says. “You don’t have to go through their backpack, you have the data.” The test also makes it easy for kids to go out when their friends are vaping. “When the parents are on your case, everyone understands it,” he says.

Talk to your kids

Don’t be confrontational. Asking your child directly if they are vaping can trigger denial and calm them down.

Find out about their friends. Teens may be more willing to talk about their friends’ habits, which could open the door for them to talk about their own.

Don’t overdo it. The dangers are real, but exaggerating them can keep children away.

Keep talking. Be persistent, this is not a one-off conversation.

Stay calm. If this is a first offense, resist the urge to punish. Instead, build trust.

Start early. With more and more middle school students trying e-cigarettes, experts recommend bringing up the topic before the age of 9.

Write to Andrea Petersen at [email protected]

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