Simon’s mom stepped into the hallway so he could talk with me alone. I asked him the usual pediatrician checkup questions. But when we got to the questions about alcohol or smoking, Simon shared that he had been vaping for more than a year.
Simon told me he was scared. At 13 years old he had developed chest pain and a cough he and his friends called vape cough. That was because they vaped too, and they also had the painful cough.
Unfortunately, research shows that it’s tough to get kids to quit vaping, due to how addictive it is. So the key for parents is to try to keep their kids off vape and juul in the first place. New research, which I recently covered for Forbes, has found that what parents and pediatricians have been doing isn’t working.
But the good news is that the research also shows what DOES work. When parents make their kids feel supported and help them set positive goals for their futures, kids are much less likely to vape. In this post, we’ll look at how to actually do that.
Kids start vaping young.
Parents have enough to worry about without worrying that their child is getting addicted to vape or juul products in sixth grade. But in my areas, that’s exactly what’s happening to many of my patients. So much so, that I’ve had kids in addiction recovery by age 12 or 13.
For some of us, our first thought might be, “Oh, those kids probably aren’t from good families.” It’s a way parents protect themselves, by pretending it won’t happen to their kids. But that is not what I observe at all. These are kids from nice homes with loving families, who happened to have tried what their friends offered them.
Most parents carefully warn their kids of the dangers of vaping or smoking. So do pediatricians and teachers for that matter. And that does work for some kids. But for many other kids it is not the deciding factor.
As a pediatrician, kids keep surprising me with what they tell each other about vaping. Many kids truly believe that the products they are vaping contain no nicotine or THC, but are just “flavored water.” This is what the kids tell each other, and it’s simply not true.
Social media encourages vaping.
Social media is not our friend here. One recent study found that TikTok was playing a big role in getting kids interested in vaping.
800 million users frequent TikTok each month, and 1 in 3 of those users in the U.S. is a child under the age of 14. The average user spends about an hour on TikTok each day and watches more than 200 videos during that time.
On a single day in November 2020, the researchers found 808 videos that used the most popular vaping hashtags. 63% of the videos showed vaping positively, and those videos were viewed over 1.1 billion times.
According to the study, “Previous studies have indicated that exposure to vaping related content among youth is associated with e-cigarette use. Considering vaping-related videos are widely accessible on TikTok, there is an urgent need to consider age restrictions to reduce youth uptake.”
How to keep kids from vaping.
Fortunately, there is good news for parents who want to make sure their kids don’t start vaping. Another recent study found that parents provide strong support and help their kids set goals for their futures can reduce the chance of their kids using e-cigarettes or smoking.
Unfortunately, the study also found that once kids start to vape, they are unlikely to quit. And that means it is critically important for parents to take an active role in keeping their kids from starting in the first place.
Parents can provide support for their kids.
The study authors broke down what they meant by support when it comes to vaping prevention into two items.
- Parents can communicate that they will be monitoring for vaping or other tobacco product use. Each family has to sort out their level of privacy vs. monitoring for their kids. But for parents who feel anxious about monitoring for drug or alcohol use in their kids, remember that vaping starts young.
- Parents can communicate their support for their child about issues around vaping. Taking time to show an interest in how our kids are doing and helping them think through problems is one of the most helpful things parents can do. Doing this on lots of subjects and not only vaping builds trust.
For many parents, the idea of bringing up something like vaping turns us into immediate authoritarians. We feel anxious about the conversation, and we go immediately into warning our kids about how bad it is and telling them not to do it.
But what our kids need is for us to show up as supportive when we talk about vaping. Here are some questions that might help:
- Do you know anyone at your school who is vaping? What do you think about that?
- What do your friends think about vaping?
- Have you had any questions about vaping? We could look those up together.
- Do you ever wonder if vaping could help you? (This gets into feelings and is a way for our kids to tell us if they are having trouble with their feelings.)
- Are there ways vaping could get in the way of things you want to do?
Parents can help kids set positive goals for their future.
Question #5 brings us into the other important finding from the study: that kids with positive goals for their future are much less likely to start vaping.
I would definitely agree with that, because the number one reason kids give me that they won’t start vaping has to do with their goals. Kids say things like: “I play sports, there is no way I’m doing anything to hurt my lungs.” But then they tell me how many kids on their team do vape, which means it’s more about their goals than a feature of athletic participation.
Other kids tell me about their academic goals, and how vaping would be a distraction. Or they tell me about their goals for having a healthy life, and how they don’t want vaping to get in their way.
Now if parents want to help kids set positive goals for the future, which probably doesn’t just prevent vaping but has a lot of good benefits for kids, they need to start with supportive listening. That’s because goals only work if they are self-motivated. The kid has to care about it; it can’t just be the parents’ goal for them.
And the other word that’s important from the study is the word positive. A lot of people have been feeling discouraged about the future right now. Many of us are worried about health in the pandemic, the safety of the world as conflict pops up and as environmental disasters keep occurring.
But we have to find a way to provide a positive outlook on the future for our kids. Because goals for the future like “survival” or “getting through it” are definitely not inspiring to our kids.
For younger kids I avoid asking them what they want to be when they grow up. By middle school a lot of them feel pressure from that question. Instead I like to ask about what they’re interested in and then set goals around those interests. Those goals can be in the future that’s much closer than what they do when they grow up, it can be participating in that Lego robotics project for this year. Or getting better at that art technique they wanted to learn.
It’s important for parents to understand that there is something they can do to help keep their kids from vaping. And many of these techniques are useful in all sorts of things we want to accomplish as parents.
Disclaimer: stories used are composites to protect the privacy of individuals. This post reflects general education. For medical advice please contact your physician.