Matthew Godfrey, Deputy Head at Downe House School in Berkshire shares some guidance and advice on how parents and schools can work collaboratively to prevent children from taking up vaping
The current prevalence of vaping among teens is a central concern for all schools and parents. Earlier this year, the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health described its rise as an “epidemic” among teenagers, even though vaping is illegal before the age of 18. If the current trend in vaping were to continue at this pace, all children would be vapers within five years.
Vapes are a particularly pernicious problem since they’re highly addictive and easily accessible. Their small size and lack of odour also makes them harder to spot. At least the lingering smell of tobacco made it obvious when a cigarette had been smoked.
Manufacturers have also marketed vape products directly at teenagers with alarming effectiveness.
It has always been the case that young people cope better with the inevitable challenges of being a teenager if parents and schools work in partnership to support them through these difficult years. So, what strategies can be put in place to combat this latest trend?
The most important way in which schools can support parents and children is by providing information and strategies, so that both parties feel empowered to avoid and deal with potential threats.
If schools do this in a clear and non-confrontational way, it fosters honest and open discussions about how best to navigate this issue.
Here are some clear messages that schools can openly share about the risks associated with vaping:
Clarity around these points will also help to foster a longer-term culture in which vaping is viewed as ‘uncool’ and has no place within the community.
- It is illegal for anyone under the age of 18 years of age to buy vapes.
- There’s a strong connection between vaping, anxiety and depression.
- Vaping is highly addictive and frequently leads to addiction to other substances, such as smoking and alcohol.
- Persistent vaping is likely to result in the corruption of the taste buds; this is, in part, because it’s easier to vape for a longer period of time than smoking, so the damage inflicted can be much worse.
- There’s very little evidence to suggest that willpower alone is sufficient to quit vaping. Once you’re a habitual vaper, quitting is extremely hard.
Here are some practical steps that parents can take onboard to help build trust and improve communication with teenagers:
- Emphasise the effectiveness of taking exercise as an effective way to crush an urge to vape.
Teachers and parents can lead on this by setting an example, as can teenage role models.
- Give examples of how distractions can deter the desire to vape. It can be as simple as doing a household chore, baking a cake, or listening to music. Training yourself to do one of these things instead of succumbing to a craving can build self-esteem and avoid addiction.
- Encourage teenagers to talk about the problem. The cliché ‘a problem shared is a problem halved’ has truth in this instance. Parents need not wait for their children to raise the topic: they can open it up as a direct conversational topic at home and reward honesty with a caring reaction, rather than getting angry if they admit to having vaped.
- Vaping is sometimes a reaction to stress, so explore other ways to de-stress. Among teenagers, exercise, meditation, and laughter are often the most effective ways to de-stress, relax and build confidence. If this can be achieved alongside a supportive parent, adult or friend, so much the better.
- Reward successes: for example, if a parent knows that their child has managed to avoid vaping for 48 hours, reward them with praise, or their favourite meal for supper.
Schools can also help to point parents towards other resources that can help. Apps such as Quit Vaping can be effective. Allen Carr’s book Easy Way to Quit Vaping has helped many, partly by very eloquently and powerfully dispelling any notion that vaping is cool or positive.
There’s much evidence to suggest that teenagers are more likely to become vapers if they have a weak sense of belonging or feel insecure in their peer group. So, schools can help by building a strong ethos and community which involves pupils and parents. This can be achieved in many ways, such as inviting parents to attend school events and encouraging as much social interaction as possible.
Pupils benefit enormously from getting involved in societies, clubs and teams outside the usual curriculum timetable.
The ideal is to find a long-term challenge or activity for a group of children – staging a play, perhaps, or working together to raise funds for a charity, or training for a football tournament – and then encouraging the whole school community to come together and support the end result.