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.


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!

When Your Second-Grader Gets Suspended

All of my years of volunteering and parenting, all of my years deep breathing in the hall closet while my kids watched Sesame Street, had prepared me for this one moment in time.

The following phone call was left out of my child’s CUM file.

(That’s short for ‘cumulative records’, the master file that follows your child’s school career from kindergarten through graduation and holds their rap sheet.)

But it explains everything.


“Hello?” I said, putting down laundry and happy for the distraction.

“Hello Mrs X, this is Mr A, the school principal.”

“Oh! Hi! Are you calling about the project we’re working on?” Big smile.

“Um, no, not this time. I need to discuss your youngest son with you, if you have a minute.”

“Of course.” I sat down.

“It seems that there’s some trouble. I took a phone call from a parent today who is very upset.”


“She said that her son came home from school today and told her that while he and your son were playing in the sand box during lunch, your son told him he had a knife in his pocket.”

“What?” I said, “My son doesn’t even own one.”

“Well,” continued the principal, “I called your son into the office and asked him about it. He admitted right away that he had told the other boy that, and then reached into his pocket and handed me…nail clippers. He said he was only pretending while they played.”

“Oh. That sounds right.”

“I explained to the mother that your child did not have a pocket-knife, he had little nail clippers. She pointed out that claiming to have a switchblade on campus is unacceptable.”

“If my son had said he was packing a light-saber, would that have been an issue?”

He quickly finished his speech, “The consequences for bringing a weapon to school are a parent/principal conference and an automatic three day suspension.”

“Excuse me?” I said. Perhaps with a little edge to it.

“Mrs X, I was very clear in my discussion with this concerned parent, but she insists that your son be punished for claiming to have a dangerous and threatening item at school.”

Then there was a very pregnant pause.

This was my cue.

Reading between the lines, I saw him caught between a rock and a hard spot.

Now, this most excellent principal knows my entire family and he has my respect in return. He knows, before even talking to my son, that the kid wouldn’t have a clue about bringing a knife to school, and that he couldn’t harm a fly if he had to.

I know that he knows that suspending my kid is ludicrous.


I also know that he knows what that crazy hyper-involved hyper-ventilating helicopter mom will do if I decide to challenge this situation with the righteous wrath of a…crazy hyper-involved hyper-ventilating helicopter mom.

Had she checked her own son’s pockets for imaginary weapons?

Our most excellent principal could see this going south in a very bad way if I were to get all eye-twitchy over it.

“Well,” I finally said, “Mr A, just go ahead and make her happy. Maybe it’s silly what my kid did, but it won’t hurt him to know that even little fibs are a bad idea.”

His relief was palpable over the phone line.

“Oh, Mrs X,” he said, “I have to fill out a suspension form, but I’m going to write very clearly that your son was innocent and exactly why.”

“He can skip school for the next three days, he’ll enjoy the holiday.”

“It has to stay in his permanent school records, I’m afraid.”

I laughed.

“Well, Mr A, then so be it. The kid goes where no sibling has ever gone before him, and that’s a fact. I don’t think his checkered past will affect his chances of becoming a neurosurgeon.”

“Thank you Mrs X.”

“Have a good week. See you on Monday.”