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Top 4 Things to Do When You Catch Your Teen Vaping

So you caught your teen vaping…

You are probably experiencing a whole range of emotions right now…anger, disgust, fear, shame, sadness and more.  You may be wondering how your teen got a vape and why, oh why, they’re doing this.  I get it.  It may be hard for you to wrap your brain around what might be going on with them and what would cause them to make such an unhealthy choice. 

Vaping is big business and big tobacco is marketing to teens.  They’re making flavors called blue raspberry, mango, and watermelon and disguising their packaging as in containers that look like lip gloss or juice boxes.  JUUL, the company with the largest e-cigarette market share was investigated for their direct marketing to children as young as eight.  Big tobacco figured out how to make smoking cool again, and it worked.  Over 2.5 million teens reported vaping in the past 30 days on the most recent CDC survey (October 2022). 

While originally marketed as a “healthy” alternative to cigarette use, we now know, vape juice is filled with dangerous chemicals.  It’s not just flavored water like many teens think.  It has massive amounts of nicotine.  Yes, nicotine, as in the highly addictive chemical in cigarettes, along with a whole host of other things you don’t want in your body.  Knowing all this information doesn’t result in changed behavior though.  A lot of adults do things everyday they know are unhealthy for them (eating Cheetos or laying on the couch binge-watching Netflix rather than exercising).  So what is a grown up to do when you find a vape in your home?  Read on to find out.


First, I want you to take a breath.  Really fill up your lungs.  Breathe all the way down to the bottom, inflating your ribcage.  Lower you shoulders from your ears and unclench your jaw.  Good.  Don’t you feel a wee bit better?  Now breathing isn’t going to change the fact that your teen is vaping, but it will help you respond more effectively to the situation at hand, which is something everyone involved wants.  

You know who else is breathing deeply?  Your teen…when they vape.  The act of breathing triggers the parasympathetic nervous system (the calming system) and releases little tranquilizer chemicals in the brain.  It’s one of the reasons vaping is so powerful.

In the act of doing something unhealthy, like vaping, they’re also learning to activate their body’s “calm down” system by really filling up their lungs and breathing deeply.


Ashleigh Warner, a holistic psychologist, says,

“Beneath every behavior there is a feeling.  And beneath each feeling is a need.  And when we meet that need rather than focus on the behavior, we begin to deal with the cause not the symptom.” 

Vaping is a behavior.  Anxiety or distress are typically the feelings underlying vaping.  But what is the need?  Is your child having difficulty focusing in school?  Have there been any recent changes in the home?  Are you are some other adult close to them someone who vapes?  Are they a child of divorce?  Is there other adversities in their life, such as an absent parent, a parent struggling with addiction or mental illness, or do they have a history of abuse or neglect?  Are they lonely?  Are they a teen currently living through a global pandemic attempting to learn virtually in a way we’ve never done before? 

Helping get curious about what’s going on beneath the behavior will help for the next step.


When you are calm and you’ve spent some time getting curious, sit your teen down for a conversation.  This can be in the car on the way to get ice cream.  Or on a walk.  Side by side is typically best for something like this.  Remove distractions like the TV, video games, or phones and don’t spend more than 7-12 minutes on this topic during the conversation. 

Start out with a statement of fact, “as I was cleaning your room, I found three vape pens.” 

Be prepared for the conversation to go sideways and for your teen to attempt to change the topic of conversation from them vaping to you being a snoop.  Don’t fall for this!  It’s a common teen strategy to deflect and attempt to “bait and switch.” 

Stick to your statement.  Repeat what you said or say something to the effect of, “we’re talking about you vaping right now.  I understand you’re upset I was in your room, AND part of my role as your grown up is to help you be safe and healthy.”  This works better if you did in fact find it accidentally, rather than intentionally snooping, but either way, don’t let them shift the conversation and make it about you and your behavior.  This conversation is about them and their behavior. 

Then, ask this magic question…

“What does vaping do for you, you can’t do for yourself?” 

Do your best to ask it in a neutral, non-judgmental tone of voice.  And then zip your lips.  You might be surprised at what comes up.  This will open the door to discussing the benefits vaping has for them.  And yes, like any drug, it does have some benefits.  Nicotine actually does help with anxiety and it does help with concentration.  These are real, and we have to acknowledge them, if we’re going to have an open discussion about vaping.  And quitting vaping also leads to withdrawal symptoms such as irritability, difficulty concentrating, and anxiety.  


What vaping tells me, as a licensed mental health professional, is your teen is having trouble managing big emotions. 

They’re reaching for a tool (vaping) accessible to them to help them regulate because they don’t know how.  This is where a professional therapist can help.  So much of what is done in a therapy session is skill building.  For instance, they can learn tools such as deep breathing, mindful meditation, or exercise as a way to calm their body rather than reaching for a vape.  They can learn to identify times, people, or places that cause them stress and develop a plan for how to respond in a healthy way to everyday stressors.  

Of course, learning these skills can be done on your own as well by watching YouTube videos or reading a book.  At the same time, progress may be seen more quickly if there’s a guide walking with your teen on this path to building regulation skills.  If counseling is something you’d like to consider with your teen, connect with me for a consult.  

I want to leave you with one thought, which is a tough pill to swallow. 

You cannot control whether or not your teen vapes. 

The more you attempt to control their behavior, the more likely they are to engage in said behavior.  Constantly searching their room, backpack, or pockets will damage your relationship with your teen over time.  They are at the age where they are learning to make their own choices and explore their own identity.  They have to be the one to decide, “yes I am a vaper” or “no I’m not someone who vapes.”  Plus vapes are small and often disguised like lip gloss or USB drives, making it difficult to discover.  Do educate yourself on what they look like and keep your eyes open around your house.

And if you are a parenting adult who vapes, consider if this is something you’re willing to let go of.  They say more is caught than taught, and if your teen sees you vaping, you are communicating to them, vaping is okay. 

For more resources, including text support to quit vaping, checkout the Smokefree website.

One thought on “Top 4 Things to Do When You Catch Your Teen Vaping”

  1. Bebe Johnson says:

    Well done!

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