The following article was shared by the Freedom from Chemical Dependency (FCD) organization to assist the collaboration between schools and parents while addressing the presence from vaping use in school-aged children. It is our hope that vigilance, both at school and at home, will help our young people make better choices for themselves and identify those who need stronger guidance.
Here at the upper school, students found using or possessing a vape or e-cigarette are immediately sent to the honor council for disciplinary review, the device is confiscated, and parents are contacted. Many of these devices are made to conceal use, produce no visible smoke or smell, making it very difficult to identify use. We have limited the use of areas of campus that are reported to be locations for use and are attempting to teach our students of the dangers of vaping through posters, guest speakers, and conversation.
We will continue to impress upon our students the dangers and the unknows of these products with hopes that they will make more responsible choices for themselves. We ask that parents spend time talking about the dangers of these devices with your children and be mindful of what they look like and how to identify them if your child obtains one. Below are some examples of what vapes look like to assist your awareness of these devices and how to spot them if your child is in possession of one:
If you have questions regarding vaping or e-cigarette use in teens, the article below may provide some guidance. You may also contact Mr. Axford regarding any concerns of suspected use by your own child to build a collaborative school and home response.
“But, everybody does it!” It’s the rallying cry of teens in their attempt to disarm adults about risky behaviors. You may hear your students say this when you talk with them about vaping. In this e-journal, the second in our series on this topic, we’ll explore the social norms approach to preventing use of vapes by the students in your schools and communities.
What Is Vaping?
“Vaping” is the use of an electronic cigarette (e-cig) or vaporizer (vape) to deliver nicotine, marijuana, and/or other chemicals to the body. Vapes contain liquid chemicals (e-juice), along with a mechanism to heat those chemicals, all in a small device. They come in many styles but generally look like high-tech cigarettes or can look very much like a flashdrive. Vapes heat the chemicals to create an aerosol form of those chemicals, that gets delivered into the body and the environment around the user. Vaped chemicals enter the lungs, bloodstream, and brain within seconds. The user may feel lightheaded, dizzy, or experience a rush or high, which may set off cravings for more.
All vapes contain chemicals. Most contain nicotine. They can also be used with marijuana or other drugs. As of now, no vapes are regulated by the U.S. FDA, and many students who vape are therefore often unwittingly introducing chemicals into their bodies, risking addiction and other health consequences.
Vaping and Social Norms
As humans, we’re social creatures. We seek to be part of a group and define ourselves by that group. What we believe the majority of our peers are doing is what we aim to do ourselves. Even if we don’t always admit it, most of us want to fit in.
Teens, especially, are focused on forming social identities. They are constantly seeking to know, “What are my peers wearing? Watching? Doing?” When it appears through observation that a behavior may be popular, you’ll hear teens start to say the behavior is something “everybody” does in their community. We as adults, if we’re honest, can be guilty of the same mental shortcuts and misperceptions.
The good news is that we can effectively harness the way humans think about other humans’ behavior to help kids stay healthy. The social norms approach to prevention is an evidence-based method that teaches teens the truth – that most of their peers are making healthy choices – so that they’ll be more likely to make those same healthy choices.
Substance use among teens in the United States has consistently declined over the past 40 years. Use of cigarettes and other tobacco products among teens are now at its lowest levels ever. Yet, nicotine use by teens via vapes is now on the rise.
However, data has demonstrated that the majority of students are still choosing to remain substance-free. And a social-norms-based community approach to prevention can help you support them in their efforts!
The Reality: Is Everybody Really Doing It?
In our work with students, FCD uses data from our own FCD Student Attitudes and Behavior Survey, as well as from other well-regarded surveys, that consistently shows that students who are making the healthy choice not to use are in the majority. By sharing this data, we are of providing students with a more realistic understanding of the use and non-use trends by their peers, demonstrating just how normal and popular non-use actually is. These types of discussions also serve to validate the healthy majority who are making healthy choices.
According to a 2017 Monitoring the Future study, only 28% of students in grades 8, 10, and 12 have used a vape product. Of those who have vaped, 19% knew that they were vaping nicotine, but 25% believed they were vaping just flavoring. Nine percent (9%) vaped marijuana. What does this all mean? It means that despite the claims that “everybody does it,” the majority of teens never have!
So where does this misperception of high use rates come from? Vaping is risky. It’s new, it’s intriguing, and it catches our eye. Adults are raising alarm bells and kids are naturally curious. We see celebrities vape or even endorse vape products. In a social media age that makes trending behavior highly visible, it is easy for teens to get a skewed view of vapes. It’s our job as adults who care to tell them the (healthy) truth.
Conversations in Community: Using the Social Norms Approach to Vaping Prevention
When a teen tells you that, “all kids vape,” how can you respond? Here are some health-based suggestions:
Give students space to consider their perceptions.
When an FCD prevention specialist enters a classroom, our intention is not to force students to change their minds. Rather, we want to understand how their minds are working. What makes them believe “everyone is doing it”? What do they think about students who are making healthy choices? Where do they see these healthy choices happening? Prevention is a continuing conversation that works best when the students are participants in that conversation. Ask them why they feel as they do and really listen.
Share accurate information first, explore the social norms approach second.
Information does not equal understanding. Sharing the healthy reality with students is only the beginning. Once students know that most kids don’t vape, many will be faced with a conflict between their perceptions and the healthy truth. Help kids navigate this conflict by sharing the theory behind the social norms approach with them. Once students understand how their perceptions are created and why they are more likely to be able to see and accept the healthy reality of their community. Understanding, even more than information, can drive our kids’ healthy choices.
What Else Can I Do? A Community Approach to Healthy Student Choices
Once your students understand that non-use is the norm in their community, what’s next? To keep the conversation going, consider the following next steps:
Health-based language as prevention.
Choose your words wisely. Be wary of moralizing vaping with words like “good”, “better” or “bad.” Judgmental language can alienate kids who are curious. Additionally, value-laden language may suggest to some teens that instead of smoking, they should vape. Remember, all use equals risk. This is true of any drug, including vapes, and especially for young people. Stick to age-appropriate language that emphasizes the reality that most students are making healthy choices. Talk about healthy alternate activities instead of use, that keeps kids safe and protected while minimizing health risks.
Keep getting educated yourself.
Teens are listening to what we say. When adults carry the false normative belief that “all teens are vaping,” that inaccurate belief can be transmitted to the teens in our lives. By educating adults, especially parents and adults in health-based positions like counselors, health educators, and nurses, we can create a healthier community.
Work with students on vape-based social norms campaigns.
A social norms campaign can be a fun and engaging way to spread the message that most students don’t vape. Have your students research the facts. Utilize data from the FCD Student Attitudes and Behaviors Survey, or access local or national data about teen vaping, to gather the facts as a basis for the campaign.
The most successful campaigns are created by the students themselves. By having students present health-based information to their peers, they are setting an example in their community. They are helping to shift false normative beliefs by showcasing the actual, healthier, social norms present in their school or town.
Many FCD schools have done social norms campaigns in a variety of creative ways, such as:
The possibilities are only limited by the creativity of the students themselves!
A Community Where Most Don’t Vape
When a student tells you, “everyone’s doing it”, they are not saying it to just challenge you. What they are actually doing is sharing a false normative belief with you.
Listen. Ask questions. Respond with health-based language. Share the social norms approach with your kids, and then get them involved in it! These small steps right there in your own school community can keep your healthy kids healthy.
About the Author
Stacey Wisniewski has been a Prevention Specialist for FCD since 2016. She holds Bachelor’s and Master’s degrees in English and Literature from Arcadia University and has worked with adolescents in several teaching and mentoring positions in and out of schools. When she is not traveling for FCD, Stacey is hosting groups for individuals in recovery from addiction. She is also an energetic healing practitioner with a focus on spiritual recovery after trauma.