Vaping was originally thought to be the safe alternative to smoking cigarettes, but boy was that wrong. The seven confirmed deaths connected to vaping in the last few months, on top of the nearly 400 cases of reported lung disease across 36 states, have health care providers, parents, and the CDC scrambling for answers. In fact, the CDC recently released a health advisory urging people to avoid e-cigarettes and other vaping devices.
Before you hit the panic button and raid your teen’s room for any traces of vaping paraphernalia or frantically beg your teen to never take another puff—stop, take a deep breath and consider how you can use this opportunity for a conversation with your teen that ultimately builds a connection, versus getting into a tug-of-war. Keyword: with. This means having a two-way conversation that involves active listening as opposed to lecturing or talking at your teen. Think about it: the more you try to tell teens what to do or how to do it, the less likely they are to follow your advice.
Whether you think your teen is vaping, know for sure they are, or want to prevent that from happening, these easy-to-implement strategies will help you have a constructive conversation about vaping with your teen that will lead them towards making safer decisions about using. But before you dive into a conversation, first arm yourself with a few facts about vaping:
- most vaping products contain high levels of nicotine,
- exposure to nicotine for a teen brain can have long lasting effects, such as lower impulse control, mood disorders, and susceptibility to addiction,
- and the chemical additives and flavors in vape may be linked to lung disease, lung damage and deaths in teens.
Now that you know the facts, start the conversation using these strategies.
- Ask Permission. The key to having a two-way conversation with your teen when it comes to subjects like vaping is to start by asking permission. This may sound crazy, but it gives teens a sense of control over the discussion and a feeling of respect. When permission is asked and given teens are more open to listen to and consider what you are sharing with them. You could start with something like this: “I’ve been hearing all over the news teens are dying or being hospitalized from vaping. I really want to know what you think. Can we talk about it for a few minutes?”
- Use Empathetic Statements. Empathy fosters a safe and supportive relationship between you and your teen. Saying something as simple as, “It can be hard to stay away from vaping, especially when you see or hear about other teens doing it” makes a more productive start to a conversation than, “Why would you want to vape?” (insert sarcastic tone).Using empathy is not saying that vaping is OK, it’s showing your teen that you understand the pressure they may be feeling. This is the foundation for building a relationship that supports positive communication with your teen, which will help them be more open to sharing truthful information and experiences with you.
- Ask Open-ended Questions. It’s tempting to share a list of all the reasons why vaping is harmful, but that’s not a two-way conversation, it’s a one-way lecture. Once you’ve asked permission and used an empathetic statement, get the conversation going with an open-ended question. These are questions that are not easily answered with a yes or no. Don’t worry, you’ll get the chance to share your thoughts and information, just find out what they think first. For example, you could say, “What do you know about vaping or e-cigarettes?”
- Listen. You may need to give your teen a few seconds of silence to think about their response when you ask an open-ended question since a teen’s brain takes longer to process questions and responses than an adult’s brain. Be patient and actively listen when they respond. If you get a one-word or “I don’t know” response, let them know you are interested by saying something like “Take your time, I’m interested in what you’ve heard about vaping.” The goal is to engage your teen in a thoughtful discussion. Research shows that if teens have thought through and planned how they will respond to a risky situation in advance, they are less likely to engage in that behavior!
- Set up Discrepancies. When talking with your teen, you may hear some things you don’t like or want to admit. Be ready for that. Acknowledge the reasons for vaping that your teen may share with you and at the same time carefully combat that with the downsides, then let them respond. You could say, “Vaping flavors are fun to try, and at the same time, vaping can affect your lungs and keep you from playing your best in basketball.” Setting up discrepancies helps teens think more deeply about the reasons for and against a behavior, leading them toward safer decisions.
As a parent, you’re placed in an influential role to keep your teen safe and healthy. But that’s no easy task. By using proven communication strategies in everyday conversations, you will continue to build a strong relationship with your teen that lasts through adulthood. Teen Speak® provides a detailed road map on how to improve communication with your teen to navigate tough conversations. By using real-world examples of teen-parent interactions with sample responses to common scenarios, Teen Speak helps support strong relationships and positive communication to foster safer decision-making.