Vaping, School, and Your Kid

You know what I hate? Feeling naive.

If my girlfriend knows something I don’t know, she fills me in so that I can be as cool as she is.

If my kid knows something I don’t know, he hides behind a bowl of cereal, hoping no questions are asked before he runs off to school. Or in the case of my own brilliant and sarcastic child, he puts it in plain view and laughs at me for being naive.

Which, let me repeat myself, I hate.

Today I am advocating, once again, family conversation. The kind where the parent has to open a door, yank technology away from little Johnny, and ask some hard questions while remaining a calm, open-minded good listener. Like Ghandi. Or maybe Don Corleone.

He isn’t going to volunteer to have this conversation. Your education will be inadequate and you will glance into his room one day and notice the sweet little plants in his windowsill and think to yourself what a great parent you are that your kid knows about gardening and ambiance.

Little Johnny is growing pot. In his room. It’s so much cheaper than the dealer down the street, and organic, too.

Mom won’t figure it out. She is busy chasing toddlers. Or paychecks. Whichever.

As a parent, I died just a little when it was voted “legal” here in California because everyone interpreted that to mean “safe”. Pot shops opened up, serving a glamorous variety of goods.  Smoking a joint or a cigarette is just so pedestrian now…what’s a kid to do?

Enter vaping.

My contacts tell me that vaping has been the cool experience of choice in the school lavatories for the last year or two. Most kids are vaping socially, meaning there’s a party in the bathroom, and these kids are not really engaging their brains at the time – which, I suppose, is the whole point.

  1. It is illegal to have marijuana or nicotine in any form if you are under the age of 21
  2. but it’s the easiest form of both for kids to access
  3. and, the kids are pretty comfortable trying it and feel that a puff won’t hurt them.

Not the way popping a pill might, or drinking a shot of liquor might. And here’s why: because the industry says so, that’s why.

As you will notice during the picture time of this presentation, vaping is marketed to youth. Although the packaging is clear about what is in the product you are buying, this is the first thing thrown into the nearest trashcan. The vape pens are sleek little packages or covered in cute cartoon figures and the cartridges that you put into them come in fun flavors from bubble gum to gummy bear.

You won’t see this kind of marketing on prescription medication or alcohol. Not even on cigarettes. The potent thc content now on the market is scientifically engineered. This is not your mama’s pot. But the industry is going to make sure it’s your child’s.

Getting the rechargeable battery-powered pens is not too difficult. But this doesn’t matter because you can walk into the school bathroom during lunch and help yourself to the party pen being passed around. If I saw one in my kid’s room, it might register as another random piece of technology or a charger pack of some kind. It could be a pen or a highlighter. The different cartridges (“carts”) full of flavorful fillings can be purchased for $20 in the store, or conveniently at school for $30. I can see myself now, spotting some vape juice, “Oh, look, little Johnny is into essential oils!”

Vaping leaves a faint scent around you for only a few minutes as it dissipates. (“Wait, little Johnny likes scented candles now?”) Kids sometimes exhale into empty gatorade bottles and cap them tightly to contain the tell-tale smoke. Either way, you can walk into a classroom ten minutes later and no one will smell it on you. My kid can get high at school all day long and not be noticed.

“Why?” I asked certain knowledgable high schoolers, “Why would you want to smoke at all?”

They hadn’t really thought about that question. I had plenty more. Why would you pass around a communal anything and put it in your mouth? Do you know which product is inside it? Or what strength?

“Hey!” calls a friend from the little group huddled in the bathroom, “Try this! You just press the button and inhale.” Many kids caught vaping are just trying it.

“But I didn’t know what it was. It was just one puff. They’re my friends. It didn’t look like it was hurting them. What’s the big deal?

Well, for originality, ask the group if anyone there wishes they could quit.

There’s one who might be brave enough to confide in you. Nicotine is addictive. Sometimes they will tell you that they began vaping in order to stop smoking cigarettes. Ask how that plan is going. And the kid vaping alone in the bathroom stall? He’s not going to share.

(And this is where you might one-up your kid and mention you know that “dabbing” is not just a dance move.)

From the time a student leaves his house until the time a student returns home, the school has a certain level of responsibility for behavior. Whether my kid sells carts off campus or just delivered money from the sales, whether he took one puff at a friend’s house or bragged about it on social media, there are civic consequences. There are words like “suspended” “expelled” or “police” involved.

The burden on school staff to maintain “a safe and secure environment” for students is heavy and unsung. Next week we go further into it.

Our kids are in over their heads. They’re being advertised to and presented with something they know little about and understand even less. Vaping is touted as “safe smoking” and it’s clearly not. We need to have some conversations.

So I am here to fill you in and start you off. And you and I will be cool together.

(Resources are included via text links. Click em.)

Picture Time:

Sunset Sherbert. Delish.

Because you always wanted to smoke a strawberry. Admit it.

Now you know how to spell “Shwifty Sticks”. You’re welcome.

I CAN. NOT. EVEN.

The Forgetful Files is a safe, supportive space exploring different life challenges and big questions with courage, kindness, humor, and practicality. Please join the conversation by offering your unique perspective!

There Be Bullies

Bullying is unwanted, aggressive behavior that involves a real or perceived power imbalance.

This month, we are focussing on issues in the school system (and this means any school system: homeschooling, charters, etc are not exempt) that are prevalent, insidious and hard for us to talk about with our kids.

Bullying has been around since Cain and Abel, but if Eve had given them smart phones I think they could have avoided going out into the field altogether and Cain could have ruined his brother from the comfort of his couch.

What this means for today’s kids is a perceived power imbalance (which is what sells technology in the first place) so magnified that the result, more times than we want to look at, is death. Death of an idea, death of self-worth, death of a child. Please stop right now and call, text, message, hug, or high-five a kid. It doesn’t have to be your kid. And you don’t need a reason. Every kid needs that little ping of positivity because – people listen up – we are fighting an undercover avalanche of insidious bullying.

And you count. I’ll wait while you send it….

According to my many teacher friends, schools are educating kids about proper web use and ethics. They know it’s hard for some kids to admit to being bullied, so it’s discussed regularly in the classroom. Some teachers have an app that can check a kid’s iPad at a moments notice to see if it’s being used appropriately. They have counselors, social workers, and technology staff and partner with police and programs for nonviolence and peace. The message they are sending out is: “Bullying is not right. Everyone deserves a safe place to be in school.”

But of course, there’s a flip side: how do you distinguish between bully behavior and normal, age-appropriate immaturity, or even teasing between two children who both think it’s funny? The “bully” label is easily triggered in students and parents alike and they expect dramatic reactive steps on the part of school staff, regardless of the circumstances. (Here’s my fun story on that.)

Usually a quick, real-time intervention by the teacher, having kids apologize or just a stern talking-to, resolves many incidents. Seasoned teachers definitely know the difference and they also know their students personalities.

But the teacher is not you, the parent. (Unless of course you are homeschooling like Eve was and we are praying for you. Get yourself a favorite aunt who will take your kid for ice cream and have this conversation.)

You, the parent, should also be using real-time intervention by talking to your kids about when they were bullied and also when they bullied someone else. The answers are perhaps not so important as the process of opening the discussion. We all have to find ways to get along on the planet and this is a good place to practice the conversation. Earn their honesty by trusting them to find solutions along with you. Suggest ways they can hand out those little pings of positivity, too.

Conversation Prompts:

  1. Technology is just a tool and you control the “off” button. No one can access you via technology unless you allow them to. Others can block you, too, if you lose their trust.
  2. Bullying can be physical, emotional, or verbal. Harassment or intimidation via technology is called cyberbullying. Look up your school policy on it and read it together.
  3. Make an action plan as a family. Consider and act out scenarios where you are the target, the witness, and the bully in turn. How do you feel? What can you say? What will you do?
  4. Restorative Circles will give you the dialogue you need, and here is the other side of that with examples.
  5. Find resources on stopbullying.gov.
  6. Find more resources from the national PTA here.

“Love your enemies as yourself” Lev. 19:18

The Forgetful Files is a safe, supportive space exploring different life challenges and big questions with courage, kindness, humor, and practicality. Please join the conversation by offering your unique perspective!

Customized

I’ve gotten into a bad habit or two. It happens.

My first-thing-in-the-morning habit involves having a large mug of tea and a bowl of hot oatmeal for breakfast. This one is a good habit. I get healthy and happy right off the bat.

The problem lies in the fact that I prefer sleeping until 8am but must be dashing out of the house by 7:45am to take youngest child to school, and I’ve sadly gotten lax about prioritizing these numbers.

Okay fine, I’ve gotten lax about every last thing to do with youngest child…when other moms followed their prodigy around the kindergarten classroom with a videocamera, I pulled up to the curb, tossed him out with a snack and said, “Good luck with that, kid!”

However, in a vague effort to be a good mom, I try to synchronize his arrival with that of his peers.

Most mornings, I can get dressed and in the car on time.

But I am holding a full mug of tea (travel cups are for sissies) and my co-pilot is holding my bowl of oatmeal while I navigate turns and hills at top speed.

If I take a drink at every red light (and there are plenty because the Red Light Gargoyles know that I might be running on time, and we can’t have that) then I have an empty mug that I can put down, take my oatmeal from youngest child, and let him out at the curb. With his snack.

Now I have a cold bowl of mush, but because I’m not here to waste food or time, I eat it methodically at all the red lights back towards home.

The kids have all seen me do this.

They are horrified.

I’ve tried to convince them it’s delicious. Why, it’s the same as eating warm(ish) oatmeal cookies soft from the oven and dipped in milk.

But they see me carve a lump of oatmeal out of the bowl and they’re not buying it.

So I want to know.

Why can’t they customize a car with a few obvious comforts?

Cars are already equipped with hair dryers. You can blast your damp locks with the heater vents as you zoom down the highway.

You can apply makeup on the way to a date using the rearview mirror. A handy sleeve of pockets attaches to the sunshade and holds your brushes and creams.

How hard could it be to install a toaster vent just above the CD portal?

PopTarts are a basic food group and so portable, it’s a natural next step, engineer guys.

Cigarette lighters are a waste in California, but with just a small modification, they would be a great curling iron at a red light.

Of course, I realize that holding anything besides the steering wheel is a terrible idea.

Naturally, I am only thinking of my passengers’ comfort.

But nobody like a grumpy driver.

So why don’t we install something like a Camelback around the top of my seat with a hands-free sipper handy for my drink?

I mean, think about this, mechanically minded people.

You drive through Starbucks and pump your headrest full of iced cinnamon dolce latte.

It’s 2015, Year of the Hover Craft.

Yeah, I don’t see that one yet.

So I’m willing to settle.

Honorably Mentioned

Oops.

My last son is attending a snooty school. The parents make sure of it.

Which explains why I haven’t once set foot on the campus. I don’t have any Manolo Blahniks.

At our school, every kid’s a winner.

We don’t have losers.

I was told by the school that my kid was receiving an award from his PE class during an assembly that would last two hours. I could not imagine what would take so long, but being a dutiful mommy, I put my rigorous schedule on hold to attend.

I had not one doubt that my son was entitled to singular recognition. Our kids get awards all the time. Why, a year doesn’t go by without my having to attend numerous award ceremonies wherein my child is called forward and patted on the head for outstanding citizenship, record breaking attendance, athletic prowess, or academic achievements.

Usually, all of them.

Any one of my children would walk away, head bowed beneath the weight of medals, hands full of certificates signed by the office staff, and occasionally the President of the United State of America.

It’s not bragging if it’s true.

But boy is it obnoxious.

I’m getting one of those bumper stickers that reads, “My Zombie Student Ate Your Honor Student’s Brain….Now Who’s Smart?”

I have one of each. So I know.

Arriving at the school a half hour early was not my best plan. Everyone else had arrived earlier. Cars were double parked and parked on top of fire hydrants and in front of red curbs or blue walkways.

Obviously these awards weren’t for hereditary successes.

I parked three counties over and ran gasping into the back of the auditorium. Standing room only. Behind lots of balloon clusters loudly proclaiming “Congratulations!” even though they were clearly meant for a wedding.

I found a sliver of wall to lean against and looked around for my son.

Once we made eye contact, our silent body conversation went on for a while. His raised eyebrows meant, “I see a parent here. This means I’ve won something. Wonder which one?”

My eyes rolled heavenward meant, “Look, kid, this is torture just for you. You’d better appreciate it. Do you see a vacant chair anywhere? This award better be good!”

I got excited thirty minutes into the program when I noticed the police had arrived. Finally, the police department could make their ticket quota in one fell swoop. Perhaps these crazed parents were getting their cars towed at this very minute!

Oh the justice of it all.

Until I realized the truth: they had kids receiving awards here today. There were two cop motorcycles illegally squeezed into a ramp in front of the office outside.

Shoot me now.

An hour and a half into it, my face shouted at my kid across the auditorium, “They are handing out awards for breathing in and out all year…and you didn’t get one! When will they call your name already?”

Why do I keep showing up for these things?

Once the PE teachers arrived on stage, I started to relax. I stood upright and rolled my shoulders, restoring circulation and tentatively feeling for my feet. My shoes were cute, but not a good choice to run and then stand for two hours in.

The awards were handed out.

Had he done the most sit-ups and push-ups? Had he run the fastest mile? Perhaps displayed excellent Sportsmanship or Leadership among his peers?

Thirty students were called up for recognition, my son among them.

It was for “Outstanding 6th Period Physical Education”.

That’s it.

Written up on a Del Taco coupon.

My son had won a free kid’s meal.

For breathing in and out every day in 6th period PE.

I am so proud.