Darth Vaper is still around, but has fewer fans. That’s the good news. The bad news is that those youngsters who are using nicotine are starting younger and using more intensely: https://tinyurl.com/29trcw4u The younger adolescents are when they start exposing their sensitive, growing brains to nicotine, the more likely they are to become acutely addicted to any product that contains nicotine. Kids also have a whole new world of dazzling nicotine products to choose from. JUUL was the first truly cool-looking, high quality electronic nicotine delivery device, but many equally alluring products have arrived on the scene since JUUL launched in 2015. Puffbar and Elfbar have recently gained popularity and there is even a “spitless” nicotine infused pouch that users can tuck into their mouths called Zyn. This is very similar to chewing tobacco and just as addictive. Friendly reminder: Nicotine has a curious feature of priming the brain to be more sensitive to ALL drugs – this sets youngsters up to become dependent on nicotine rather quickly, but also makes them more responsive to any other drug they might try – if there were such a thing as a “gateway” drug, nicotine would be a strong candidate.
Our job as adults is to help children protect their extraordinary (but vulnerable) brains – at some point all young people will be sharing an environment with people who are using nicotine, alcohol, cannabis (in it’s MANY forms – we will save that for another blog post!) and possibly other drugs. Even if it’s only classmates or fellow dorm residents who are chatting about their weekend activities, kids are constantly exposed to chatter about drugs. This is why it is imperative to engage them in honest, accurate conversation about harmful substances earlier than you think you need to. If your child has access to the Internet, your child is hearing about these behaviors already from celebrities and random folk on various social media platforms.
I have been an alcohol and other drug educator for 28 years and I have recently noticed a concerning trend amongst some parents who want to protect their children from anything that might seem like edgy or upsetting information, even if it’s accurate and totally age appropriate material. I had a mom email me to say that she felt her 8th grade daughter was way too young to be talking about alcohol and other drugs at school. This student had an iPhone and was a varsity athlete playing with seniors – I feel quite sure that health class was not her first or only exposure to any dialogue about substances. It could be that the pandemic made people feel more anxious or we all have a new need/desire to stay in our bubbles, but most kids are living their lives online and are exposed to all kinds of content regarding alcohol and other drugs from people you probably wouldn’t want advising your children. It’s true that kids feel “younger” after so much time away from regular school in 2020 and 2021, but there are many benefits to that and there is certainly no reason to shield them from accurate health information because they lost a little socialization in the past few years. The fact that their chronological age matches their life experience is actually kind of wonderful, and provides more of a reason to share your thoughts and guidance on important health topics. If you don’t step in and teach your children about crucial decision making regarding addictive substances, somebody else will and it might not be the person you would choose.