It’s always a fine line—do I bring it up? Is this the hill to die on? When it comes to Juul use among teens, it’s love at first puff. It fits in the palm of your hand—easily hidden from teachers and parents. It contains as much heart-racing, addicting nicotine as two packs of cigarettes. It even comes in the same flavors as your favorite ice cream, like strawberry, mint, and tutti frutti.
With all of these features it’s not surprising how fast Juul—one of the newest nicotine vaping products—has shot to the top of the e-cigarette market, and how many of those buyers and users are teens.
It’s normal for teens to explore things that aren’t always good for them and seek out the approval of their peers. So how do we help our teens make the best choices possible (particularly when we are not around) and avoid the decisions that may negatively impact their lives for years to come? How do we approach the subject without causing them to hate us?
Start by talking with your teen. That means having a two-way conversation that involves listening as opposed to lecturing or talking at your teen. Think about it, the more you try to tell teens what to do or how to do it, the less likely they are to follow your advice. It’s how teens are wired! That doesn’t mean you should refrain from talking with them. Here are a few proven communication techniques to help you kick off constructive conversations about important topics—like the growing Juul phenomena.
- Ask Permission. The key to having a 2-way conversation with your teen when it comes to subjects like sex, alcohol or vaping is to start by asking permission. A normal part of being a teen is their struggle for control. Asking permission gives them a sense of control over the discussion and a feeling of respect. When permission is asked and given, teens are more open to hearing what you are sharing with them. You could start with something like this: “I’ve been hearing more about vaping and Juul and would like to know what you have heard. When is a good time for us to talk without other distractions?”
- Use Empathetic Statements. Empathy creates a safe and supportive environment between you and your teen. Saying something as simple as “It can be really hard to manage peer pressure, especially when it seems like everyone is vaping,” makes a more productive start to a conversation than, “Would you jump off a bridge if everyone was doing it?” Using empathy might seem like a very soft way to open a conversation, but it sets the stage for teens to feel more comfortable sharing truthful information with you. And don’t forget to watch your tone. Teens are very sensitive to our delivery, they will pick up and “tune in” to genuine empathy, while picking up and “tuning out” a tone of sarcasm or frustration.
- Ask Open-ended Questions. It’s tempting to share a list of all the reasons why Juul is bad when you speak with your son or daughter, and to give them some helpful tips for how they can handle peer pressure. But that’s not a 2-way discussion, it’s a one-way lecture and teens don’t respond well to being told what to do (most of us don’t)! A great way to start a productive and honest two-way discussion is with open-ended questions. These are questions that are not easily answered with a yes or no answer. Don’t worry, you’ll still have the chance to share your thoughts, just find out what they think first. If you’d like to have a conversation with your teen about handling peer pressure and vaping, for example, you could say, “How would you handle being offered a vape pen by one of your friends?” instead of “You would never vape or use Juul, right?”
- Listen. When your teen responds to an open-ended question, actively listen. Instead of responding immediately, take a slow, deep breath. A few seconds of silence gives your teen a chance to think about what they are saying and continue their thought. Your goal is to engage your teen in thoughtful discussion so they can think through risky behaviors and possible alternatives to those behaviors. Research shows, if teens have planned a response to a situation in advance, they are less likely to engage in that risky behavior!
As a parent, you are placed in an influential role to help keep your teen safe and healthy. But that’s no easy task. By implementing smart and proven communication techniques into your discussions, you will not have to dread every conversation or avoid it altogether. Teen Speak provides a detailed road map on how to get a conversation started about all types of risky behaviors. By using real-world examples of teen-parent interactions with sample responses to common scenarios, Teen Speak helps support positive change and safer decision-making.
Dr. Jennifer Salerno is a nurse practitioner, researcher, author, national speaker, and founder of Possibilities for Change. Her team developed the nation’s leading adolescent risk screening system, RAAPS. Dr. Salerno’s book, Teen Speak, and the Teen Speak series includes practical communication strategies that have helped thousands of parents overcome the most common challenges of parenting a teen. http://possibilitiesforchange.com