Tween/teen vaping is insidious and everywhere

Vaping is the latest thing keeping me up at night.

If you’ve got a middle school-age kiddo, chances are they’ve already been exposed to vaping – and may even have tried it. It’s estimated that more than a quarter of tweens and teens have vaped.

Vaping is not like cigarette smoking. I remember trying a cigarette in middle school and hating it immediately. It tasted awful, smelled bad, made me cough and hurt my throat and lungs. It was a no-go for me! But alas, vaping is not like that.

There are very few outward telltale signs that a child is vaping. There are few to no odors and likely not much coughing – at least for a while.

Young people are drawn to vaping because it seems cool, smells good and doesn’t hurt. It might even make them feel good at first.

Even if they have been taught all their lives that smoking is harmful, kids may still be drawn to vaping because, mistakenly, they view it as less harmful than smoking.

It certainly doesn’t help that many vape pens are brightly colored, flavored like candy and overall look like something that is very attractive to children. This is criminal, in my opinion.

The vape pen I found and confiscated recently, like the one pictured here, was bright pink and “strawberry ice cream” flavored. That doesn’t sound like something harmful, but unfortunately it was actually a nicotine vape, which is highly addictive and dangerous.

Tweens and teens get vaping devices from their friends. They are very easy to purchase from Amazon or other online sites; all you have to do is check a box stating that you are 21. And, they are tiny so very easy to hide in a pocket, pencil case or even a bra.

If you haven’t talked with your kids about vaping yet, it’s important to start.

Even kids that you don’t think will try it may be tempted when they see friends doing it, laughing and having fun. Kids seem to love making TikTok or SnapChat videos with cool smoke effects.

I never in a million years thought a certain middle-schooler would try vaping. They have always been extremely anti-drugs, anti-smoking and anti-vaping.

In fact, not too long ago, when a family friend pulled out a vape in front of them and took a toke, this kiddo ripped into them until the friend swore never to do it again in front of them. Then the kiddo insisted, “no, you need to never do it again, period!”

Unfortunately, now we’re in middle school and all bets are off. All it took was one or two cool, older friends to vape in front of them; instantly, they switched from being anti-vape to wanting to try it themselves. Kids at this age are highly impressionable and easily influenced by peers.

No matter how close and loving the parental connection, no matter how much you try to keep conversations open and non-judgmental, tween and teen vaping can happen.

One middle-schooler shared with me that vaping and vape sharing happen at school all the time. Kids will go to the bathroom one at a time, with the first one leaving a vape pen hidden in the sanitary pad bin or somewhere else in the bathroom for a friend to find and use.

Not only is this highly unsanitary – but also, during Covid, kids should especially not be sharing vapes!

Olentangy Schools have instituted strict punishments for students caught vaping, including a 3-day suspension for anyone caught with tobacco products, e-cigarettes or vaping devices. Still, kids are wily and the devices are all too easy to hide.

One sure way to find out if your child is vaping is to closely monitor their social media and texts. If tweens and teens are seeing substance use and abuse by other kids on social media sites, they are more likely to try it themselves because it normalizes and even glorifies the activity.

When I talk about close monitoring, I mean actually logging in as them to their social accounts so you can get an idea of the videos and images they are watching, as well as those they may be sending to and receiving from friends. Because vaping creates a unique visual, kids are likely documenting their experience, just as they like to document most other things they do.

Kids today are unbelievably tech-savvy; check their recently deleted album in iPhotos as they may be hiding incriminating photos and videos there. If they use Snapchat, check their saved and private snaps and stories; if they use TikTok, check their drafts as well as their private videos.

I have found the best way to monitor kids’ text messages is to set up their Apple ID on your own desktop or laptop so you’ll see all incoming and outgoing texts. Also, check their Google docs to see if they are using that app and shared documents to secretly message back and forth with friends.

We have always been very open with our child about the fact that anything they put out there using technology and social media can and will be viewed by us – and potentially others, too. It’s not about us spying or not trusting them, it’s about us wanting to help keep them safe from bad people and poor choices.

What to do if you catch your kid vaping

If you do catch your child vaping, the most important thing – and the hardest thing! – is to remain calm and non-judgmental.

For the record, I personally did not respond that way; rather, I freaked out and began shrieking like a harridan. That’s why I’m writing this blog post so others can learn from my mistake!

Extreme parental judgment or yelling can have the opposite effect to what we’re desiring. Instead, stay calm and have an open conversation with your kiddo. Or, maybe come back to the topic when you can be calm.

According to the experts, the best practice approach for turning kids off vaping is NOT to tell them how harmful and dangerous they are.

Instead, we should acknowledge that tweens and teens don’t like to be manipulated or controlled by adults. Experts agree the best way to get teens to not want to vape is to let them know they are being targeted, manipulated and controlled by the vape manufacturers.

See those pretty colors and enticing flavors? Those are designed to attract young people, entice them to try vaping and get them addicted so they will spend their lives filling the manufacturers’ pockets.

I’m definitely going to try this approach the next time our kiddo seems up for a friendly parental conversation; often we have these in the car so there’s no awkward (for them) eye contact.

Most of all, anytime the kiddo is open and honest with me about tough topics like this one, I always thank them for their honesty and bravery in talking to us. The most important thing for me is open and honest communication! And yes, I did apologize for over-reacting.

Do you have other tips for parents of middle school and high school kiddos in this age of vaping? I’d love to hear your suggestions in the comments below or over on Instagram or Facebook.

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About the author

Proud and loving midlife mama. Lucky and devoted wife. Dog, cat and snake mom. Travel nut. Natural born writer. PR and social media pro by day - tattoo doula by night.

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