When I first met Gail and heard her story I knew I had to share it so other parents could learn from her experiences dealing with a son addicted to vaping. I have been working with her in this issue and I hope you have the opportunity to not only read this article but share it with your friends. This is a “Call to Action” to every parent to be on the alert to your child’s potential vulnerability to a critical problem in this country.
Thank you for reading.
Vaping and Our Teens
You’ve seen the news about teens and the dangers in vaping. Do you think your child is at risk?
If you answer “No,” think again. Statistics say that almost 25% of teens have vaped in the past month. I was shocked to realize that one of those teens was mine.
Essentially every teen is at risk. As a parent, do you know what to do about it?
My oldest child spent his early life in a Ukrainian orphanage. I expected challenges because of the deprivation he experienced as an infant. As you can imagine, he still struggles because of his difficult start on life. As his mother I ache to take his pain away, and I walk the troubling path with him. I have done all I could to get him the professional help he needs. Using available services all along the way, he is now beginning his senior year in high school.
By contrast, his younger brother, who we adopted at birth, was a social kid with many friends. He moved easily among groups of teens. He excelled in a sport and loved to play. He grew up watching his brother’s struggles and seemed wonderfully free of challenges.
Yet it’s our younger son – the well-adjusted kid who has seen how hard life can be – who is vaping. I couldn’t believe it when I caught him with a JUUL (e-cigarette vaping device). What should I have thought? He is rebelling, right? My husband and I couldn’t have two kids who are struggling.
It took a long time to figure out that it was not just expected teen rebellion. He could not admit he could not stop vaping. That what had started as experimentation had quickly progressed to addiction and a controlling force in his life. The sexy vaping device delivers both a more powerful “buzz” and easier accessibility. Teens like him frequently “hit their JUUL” even during school, in class and in the halls. The devices are so easy to conceal that teachers don’t always recognize them.
Our world turned upside down as we had to confront this new threat to our child’s well-being. How do we deal with an addiction that was never anticipated? How do we deal with the breakdown in trust between parents who disapprove and a child who is hooked on vaping? What is the right intervention to free him from this vaping monster?
I was not prepared.
I felt like everybody else had these great kids while mine was struggling with addiction. Despite having a terrific, supportive husband and a professional career in healthcare, I could not find help.
I remember the day I came home from work and found one more JUUL pod in his room. After all the talks, the punishments, the promises—nothing had helped him.
He had already been caught at school and punished with suspension and banishment from sports, his favorite part of school. With time on his hands, he stayed home and vaped more. He was isolated from friends when their parents no longer allowed him to come over. We grounded him and revoked phone privileges. Still he vaped.
The experts offered lectures, not solutions. Other parents of vaping teens were distraught like we were. We all had questions with no answers. I just had to close my eyes and cry, probably the hardest I have cried in my life.
When I could cry no more, I vowed to see vaping from the teens’ perspective. I talked to my teens.
We were horrified to realize how little we understood about their world and how surrounded they are by vaping.
- Access is simple. Do they go to school, hang out with friends, or attend parties? If your child has four or more friends, statistics are that at least one of them has vaped in the last month.
- Phones make it seem like everyone is doing it. Social media apps like Snapchat, HouseParty, and Instagram show peers doing vape tricks, highlighting places where any age can buy, and promises of easy money for promoting a post by someone who sells.
- Ads are everywhere. What about the online games your teens play? Do you know those games advertise for JUUL and BLU e-cigarettes? The devices are easy to hide, and ads provide tips on how to hide them.
Have you listened to the radio lately? The morning DJs on our local stations ( 100.3 and 94.7 FM in Northern Virginia ) assure us that e-cigarettes are safer than smoking.
- The signs of use are subtle. Do you notice the red eyes or the bottle of Visine in their school bag? The tiny square charger attached to their computer that charges an e-cigarette? See this article from Healthy Balance, “Teens and Vaping” for a list of other signs of use and the health hazards.
- Peers can be bullies. If you ask, you just may learn that your teen gets frequent requests to hang and “Juul”. That there are even threats for not helping to promote someone’s business or for speaking up against using.
Where can you turn for help?
As a parent, you want your kids to be physically and mentally healthy to become the best they can be. We work hard to help our kids avoid dangers and safely navigate the task of growing up. Research indicates that parents are the single most important influence against experimenting with vaping. Be sure to speak to your child now about what they know and what they see. Expect that they know more than you think they do and be prepared to listen and learn. Then educate them on the dangers and role play ways to say no.
If you are a parent whose child is not caught in this destructive cycle, you are lucky. Make sure you know how your school handles vaping and ask them to provide information to parents on the issue. If they don’t already provide students with education about the nature and danger of vaping, ask how they are addressing the skyrocketing use among students. Reach out to your PTA about education and intervention programs available in your school and community.
If you are parents like us, struggling with a vaping addiction, you will find there is very little beyond information to help them. There are really expensive psychiatrists and there are inpatient hospitalization programs for mental health disorders. For the majority of teens, neither approach is really effective or the right fit to help them to quit. Teens need new skills to regain their independence from vaping and sustained support as they first practice, then master, those new skills. As a family, you may also need skills to rebuild trust and develop a new partnership with your teen in the fight against vaping.
My journey to help my son regain control over vaping – Educational advocacy and new program pilot
When we realized our child was not able to just quit vaping we entered a whole new world. We had to interact with a school system that was focused on catching kids vaping and punishing them with suspensions and loss of privileges like activities and sports. Our son, like so many others confronted with the same consequences, merely descended into depression and rebelliousness. He turned to his addiction to mask his pain and isolation.
We advocated with the school Principal, the regional superintendent and School Board members to change the approach from punishment to identification and intervention. While the changes were not in time to help our child, starting with the 2019/2020 academic year, no one will lose privileges for a year for a vaping offense. In addition, students will be referred to a school-based counselor for support and education.
Piloting a new approach to breaking vaping addiction.
Simultaneously we looked for a program that treated vaping as an addiction and provided the needed skills and education so he could take back control of his life. Equally important to us was a program that rebuilt family communication and trust. We wanted to partner with our child as he freed himself from vaping.
Starting in November 2019 in Northern Virginia, the pilot program, Break the Vape,will be available to the first 10 families. Break the Vape is built on a therapy approach that has 30 years of research into helping teens and adults break the bonds of other types of stimulant addiction including opioids, alcohol, and pain killers. This program is being updated and piloted to support vaping addictions. The program involves six weeks for teens and their parents to learn the skills to cease vaping. Six weeks to change the support network for your teens. Six weeks to build positive parent/teen communication and create a working partnership with your teen.
If you are interested in being part of this new program, are looking for advice on what other parents are doing, or just want more information, please reach out to me at firstname.lastname@example.org
Gail Embt is changing the public response to vaping from condemnation and conflict to understanding and intervention. When she was faced with her teenage son’s addiction to vaping, she experienced first-hand the lack of fact-based education, appropriate intervention programs, and support for families. Determined to help her son reclaim his life and restore trust between them, Gail has since partnered with organizations that specialize in substance abuse intervention and now offers an adapted “Break the Vape” pilot program to empower other families to address their struggles with teen nicotine and marijuana vaping.
Gail works from all angles to help stem the vaping epidemic. She advocates with her own Fairfax County Public School system (in Virginia) and PTA for youth and parents and for appropriate, supportive policies for those addicted. She actively serves on the Fairfax Prevention Coalition focused on building a safe and healthy community free of substance misuse. She is also certified in Applied Suicide Intervention Skills Training (ASIST).
Gail has over 25 years of corporate experience, including 8 years at the C-level. She is the founder of KinergyCare, a company that provides care coordination support for patients and families. She earned a BA from Cornell and an MBA from Georgetown. You can contact her at email@example.com.