One Parent’s View of Teen Vaping

By Aliza Sherman posted 08-25-2020 19:11

by Aliza Sherman, a parent
from the panel discussion:
Vaping the Next Chapter - Utilizing Effective Tools and Resources to Combat E-cigarettes in Your School!

My daughter started Juuling the summer before 8th grade when she was only 12. She and her girlfriends talked about getting “high” from every puff of nicotine. They texted about their favorite flavors - mango, mint - and how they felt “buzzed” from the massive doses of a powerful stimulant.

For my daughter, that “buzz” quickly turned into intense anxiety and agitation, both when she vaped and when she ran out. She sought additional substances to settle her nerves and to help her sleep. She learned that alcohol and cannabis could take the edge off her jangled nerves, making her relaxed and sleepy. 

Before she even turned 13, she was Juuling daily in the school bathrooms -
or “Juul Rooms” - at each break between classes.

Getting Caught

We didn’t know about her Juul use until her middle school principal called to inform me that my daughter was caught on video, standing outside the girls’ bathroom with something that looked like a vape pen. She claimed the object in her hand was her iPhone, and we all gave her the benefit of the doubt because the video image was unclear. 

Eventually, she was caught Juuling in the school bathroom along with several other girls. She was honest about her actions, and also confessed that the object in the video had, indeed, been a Juul vape pen.

She received a mandatory suspension of three days, and her principal gave the option for her to take a Volunteers of America substance abuse course for youth in order to remove the suspension from her record. He said he wanted my daughter to be able to go into high school with a clean record.

We took him up on the offer.

The course was nothing short of a joke. The instructor was ill-informed, and the kids ran circles around her with their in-depth knowledge of substances, albeit their very limited knowledge of addiction. The course didn’t even address Juul use so it felt like a waste of my daughter’s time and only exposed her to kids with more serious addictions who now seemed “cool” to her. 

Addiction and Aftermath

My daughter tried to quit Juuling on numerous occasions, but she later confessed that she couldn’t. Over the course of the next year, we’d find bits of evidence of Juuling around the house and yard - an empty pod or cap off a pod, a broken Juul vape pen. When we finally did a complete search of her room, after we were sure we had already found everything she was hiding, we uncovered an additional twenty or more empty pods and Juul pod packaging.

Once we removed all of her “stash,” she was despondent and panicked, with no substance to subdue her anxiety. In January 2020, at the age of 13, she tried to kill herself.

After her suicide attempt and subsequent hospitalization plus over five months in various youth Residential Treatment Centers, we thought her Juuling addiction was under control. Her relapses after discharge in June involved alcohol, not vaping. She no longer had an iPhone so could not reach her “plugs” or dealers via Snapchat to stock up on cannabis or Juuls.

We thought vaping nicotine was in the past.

Relapse and Resolve

My daughter recently stayed over at a “safe” friend’s house - safe as in the girl assured my daughter that she was no longer Juuling herself and was willing to support my daughter’s sobriety. Her friend, however, had lied and ended up vaping in front of her with the latest colorful Puff Plus, a Juul competitor. Then she gave my daughter her very own Puff Plus - in Watermelon Kiwi flavor.

I only know this because my daughter confessed to me several days later, handing over the Puff Plus and telling me that she also let her therapist know what happened. She said she finally realized how vaping nicotine was making her extremely agitated - she could feel it happening and couldn’t control that feeling.

“I was being so mean to you,” she told me. I hadn’t noticed anything different about her behavior, mostly because an annoyed teen girl isn’t unusual. “I felt so irritated all the time,” she said.

While I was horrified she started vaping again, I was grateful she had told her therapist and felt comfortable enough to tell me. She says she doesn’t want to vape again because it made her feel terrible. I hope that’s true.

As a parent, my number one priority is keeping my daughter safe, healthy and alive to get her through these tumultuous teenage years. Add substance abuse and addiction to the mix, and particularly the prevalence of Juuls and Puff Bars amongst her peers, and it feels like an uphill battle.

The main things I think that should be in place to help our young people either avoid vaping nicotine entirely or to address addiction are:

  1. Treat vaping nicotine as an addiction. Punishment does not help an addict. Suspension from school doesn’t discourage substance abuse when the child is addicted.
  2. Conduct extensive education. Both parents and students need more information about vaping nicotine, and education should start in elementary school, in formats that are age-appropriate and peer-led.
  3. Partner with education programs. Identify and join forces with legitimate, up-to-date educational programs that utilize the language and communication tools that kids use.
  4. Partner with addiction programs. Identify and partner with legitimate, up-to-date addiction programs with a focus on pre-teens and teens and their families. This needs to include individual, family, and group therapy.

The adage “It takes a village” is apt for how communities, schools
and families can address vaping with our kids.

A Parent’s Role

Kids may experiment or succumb to peer pressure. Parents need to know each of their kids’ friends and meet each of those friends’ parents to set some ground rules for interactions. I eventually learned that one of my daughter’s “cool” girlfriends had parents who kept alcohol and cannabis products, including edibles, in easy reach of their kids. Evidently, the girl hosted slumber parties, snuck boys into the house, and distributed her parents’ stash to everyone.

Awareness, education and support are three keys to keeping our kids safe and healthy and away from the substances that can be harmful and addictive. One thing I tell my kids is that as soon as their brain is fully formed - around age 25 - they can decide if they want to vape or consume cannabis or alcohol. 

Realistically, I know my kids may experiment with substances or end up drinking before they reach the legal drinking age. All I can hope for is that they won’t get behind the wheel of a vehicle or find themselves in a dangerous situation. I work hard to establish trust with my kids so they won’t hesitate to call me if they get in a bind.

Acknowledging that vaping nicotine is not only more prevalent than alcohol amongst young people - and is also much easier to hide - is the first step to realizing this is not only an epidemic and health crisis, but an insidious one. Working together in partnership with the various stakeholders in ensuring the safety and wellbeing of our youth is the only way to tackle the issue of vaping and addiction in a smart and effective way.