This week is a Q&A based on a conversation with a parent, worried about her college student who is exhibiting worrisome behaviors.
Q: My son is home for a semester, taking classes locally and working; however we’re worried about him. He’s not saving any money, gaming a LOT, and vaping. His grades are slipping a bit, and we think he may have ADD. He’s also not honest with us sometimes, we don’t trust him, and we hate how that feels. We’re really concerned about the money spent on, and the health risks of, vaping. How do we approach this?
A: I’m not an expert on vaping, but I will say this: in your home you set limits and boundaries about what you can live with. (The thing about boundaries, though, is that you do it if and only if you are 100% sure you will follow through. Otherwise, don't even bring it up.)
If your main concern is his health, that really is out of your hands. He’s 19. He can vape anywhere he wants, and that is not in your control. Since vaping is legal, you can't use that argument either. If it is so distressing to you that it has you worried and panicky and interfering with your peace of mind and functioning, at the very least you can decide that your home is a vape-free zone.
What would the outcome be? “If he vapes at home, then _______.” It doesn't take away the worry, but it does mean that you don't have to allow that habit in your home and have it as a reminder of what upsets you.
If you’re not going to set a boundary, you can just tell him what you see and how you feel. Script it and watch your tone of voice. You want to be loving, but neutral, not emotional. "Honey, I love you. And I want you to know that I know you are vaping. I saw the paraphernalia. I've done some research on it and it concerns me....". And then go about your business. No need to belabor the point. He gets the message.
In this way, you express your concerns, and you do it in a respectful, non-judgmental way (as opposed to, "How could you do this? Don't you know how dangerous this is?”). It's not a secret anymore. It comes out of the box of ‘things we don’t talk about’ and it busts through the denial that he is using this (non-lethal, yet habit-forming) substance.
You mentioned other concerns: grades, ADD, no savings, gaming. What you're describing is a young man who is floundering, using other habits/products to soothe himself. And those habits/products cost money, so there go the savings! Those can be signs of depression. At the very least some professional help or an evaluation is in order.
It's important to focus on the causes underlying the symptoms you described. Grades, vaping and all that, they are symptoms. (It's like only taking meds for diabetes, when you really need to address food and activity levels.) My experience taught me that we had to focus on the root causes. When that is taken care of, the other things sort themselves out. "Getting on track to keep up with school" is secondary to getting to the root of why he is struggling.
I know this is overwhelming; I've been there and then some. Take care of yourself. Figure out what helps you get calm (even if only for a few minutes at a time). Decide what are the most pressing issues to you. Know your own bottom line. Get help - therapist, clergy, coach, nutritionist, whatever works for you.
And remember to love the person in front of you. He is much more than the behaviors you see. Talk about anything you have in common, and memories of the beautiful, kind, sweet person he was before all this started. Take out some baby/toddler pictures and go down memory lane with him.
He's already feeling bad about himself and about disappointing you. Don’t let vaping and gaming be reasons to abandon the relationship. Help him feel loved and connected to you.
Fern Weis is a certified life coach who learned that caring and good intentions are not enough in parenting. In fact, they are often the problem! Fern supports parents of teens and young adults who are going through difficult situations, including addiction recovery. She helps parents release guilt, end enabling and confidently prepare their children to thrive through life's challenges. Her articles are featured in Thrive Global, Medium, Motherly, The Teen Mentor, and Bergen County Moms.
Learn more about coaching and classes at www.fernweis.com. And then download your free guide, "Five Powerful Steps to Get Your Teen to Talk." For information on Family Recovery programs, visit www.familyrecoverypartners.com