Q: I found a vaping pen hidden in my 13-year-old son’s room and am at a loss as to how to deal with it. He is susceptible to peer pressure and wants badly to fit in with the “cool” kids. Any suggestions would be appreciated.
A: This is one of those questions that, no matter how I answer, some people will buy pitchforks and torches and try to find my house.
Although there has been plenty of speculation, medical science has yet to find any long-term health risk associated with vaping other than the obvious: nicotine addiction. Undoubtedly, some folks are apoplectic already because they think nicotine causes various cancers, most notably lung cancer, but — this is a fact — smoking tobacco is bad because tobacco tars become carcinogenic when burned and inhaled. Nicotine does not cause lung cancer.
Nicotine is an addictive drug, but the strength of its addictive effect varies from person to person. However, if one removes tobacco from the equation, garden-variety nicotine addiction is not reliably associated with any specific health or behavioral risk. Nicotine addicts are not known, as a group, to rob convenience stores or snatch elderly women’s purses to feed their habit. Drive-by shootings are not associated with nicotine addiction. There’s no South American nicotine cartel. As addictions go, it’s relatively benign. However, no addiction is a good thing, and it is possible to overdose on nicotine, so hold off on the pitchforks and torches for now.
Valid, replicated, peer-reviewed research has discovered that nicotine has positive effects on cognitive functioning and appears to be a “brain vitamin” of sorts. For example, nicotine use is associated with lower rates of Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s and other forms of neurological degeneration.
Perhaps the most worrisome thing about e-cigarettes is they’ve been known to set clothing on fire and even explode. The cheaper the e-cig, the more likely it is to malfunction. Your son is probably using an inexpensive unit.
By no means am I dismissing your concerns. I’m simply saying that if you do all you can to stop your son from using e-cigs, and he figures out how to get around your prohibition, the world isn’t coming to an end. After all, he could have fallen in with a peer group that self-medicates with alcohol, marijuana or illicit and even prescription drugs. If you don’t see an alarming change in his mood or behavior, then he’s not likely to be doing anything but nicotine.
When it comes to teens, parents do well to accept that the limits of their influence have waned and trust that the discipline they’ve provided to that point is going to effectively deter anti-social and self-destructive behavior. Some experimentation is likely during the teen years, especially with boys. In many cases, the experimentation goes no further than that: experimentation.
You want to approach this issue dispassionately. You can and should confiscate your son’s smoking equipment and let him know that until all the facts are in concerning e-cigs, you would be irresponsible to allow him to vape. Let him know that there will be consequences if you find another e-cig in his possession. Try to discover if his peer group is doing anything riskier than vaping. If they are, then you should try to limit his contact, knowing that attempting to prohibit teenage relationships carries its own risks.
Sometimes the only thing a parent can do in the face of a problem is to stay calm and continue to be “user-friendly,” as in always loving and always approachable.
Family psychologist John Rosemond answers parents’ questions on his website, Rosemond.com.
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