Today’s youths are rebelling less than past generations, it seems. According to the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, cigarette smoking, illicit drug use, sexual activity and binge drinking by teens have hit their lowest levels in decades – so today’s parents must be doing something right!
One growing trend, though, is significantly harming our children: vaping with electronic cigarettes (commonly, e-cigs) and similar devices like personal vaporizers and electronic nicotine delivery systems. Vaping has risen in popularity despite state laws against such devices’ sale to minors. Marketed toward kids, they easily sell online to many teens who fake their age.
One of the more trendy and dangerous devices, the Juul, comes from two Stanford graduates who sought to use their design background to invent an “attractive alternative” to cigarettes. They succeeded. In fact, this device has grown so popular that many teens have verbalized its name and talk about “juuling” daily.
Available in many attractive shapes and colors, Juuls look like USB flash drives. Their size – small enough to be palmed – makes it easy to hide Juuls from disapproving adults. When used, the aroma of a Juul’s light vapor often smells pleasantly like moisturizer or perfume. Adding to the Juul’s allure, a “starter” kit costs more than $50, making ownership something of a status symbol.
E-cigs and similar devices were created to offer a safer substitute to traditional tobacco products – and to be fair, such devices produce no cancer-causing smoke. Vaping does, however, expose users to such toxic substances as the cancer-causing agent diacetyl and nicotine, humanity’s old nemesis, whose addictiveness can rival that of heroin or cocaine.
Most vaping devices (Juuls in particular) involve a nicotine platform. Unfortunately, many adolescents view them as risk-free because they produce no smoke. Anytime teens ingest nicotine with frequency, though, they’re stunting their cognitive growth and contributing to a potential addiction that could last a lifetime, as the developing adolescent brain becomes conditioned to seek the damaging chemical.
If you suspect your teen is “juuling” or otherwise vaping, parents, ask him or her if that’s the case. Then, if so, start a conversation instead of lecturing on the dangers of e-cigs. (When adults criticize, most adolescents automatically dismiss the parental viewpoint because of negative presentation.) As part of the conversation, share facts and educate your child about the health hazards of vaping, thereby encouraging her or him to make an informed decision.
Life as a parent would involve a lot less stress if we could lay down the law and our kids happily followed our directives. Unfortunately, we know that’s not likely. Teens, by nature, are impulsive, and experimenting with risky behaviors remains developmentally appropriate. Still and all, most adolescents do care what their parents think and will take fewer risks when their mothers and fathers stay involved and treat them with respect. The best way to keep your child safe involves maintaining a positive dialogue.
Prior to going into private practice as a psychotherapist and learning-disabilities specialist, Russell Hyken, Ph.D., Ed.S., M.A., LPC, NCC, worked for more than 15 years as an English teacher, school counselor and school administrator. Visit him online at ed-psy.com.