Vaping Surges…Largest Year-to-Year Increase Ever Recorded

Since 1975, the Monitoring the Future (MTF) study of substance use among U.S. adolescents has been conducted annually by the University of Michigan’s Institute for Social Research and funded by the National Institute on Drug Abuse.

For the past 20 years, I have turned to the MTF study to see what the national trends are with adolescent substance use from one year to the next. I’ve seen a lot of trends with different substances over the years – trends that primarily show a decrease in use while other trends have raised some concerns.

I recently read the summary of the 2018 MTF survey which involved about 44,500 students in 8th, 10th and 12th grades enrolled in 392 secondary schools nationwide. I must say…I was alarmed. I’ve never read a summary of a MTF survey that raised concerns as this one did.

Increases in adolescent vaping from 2017 to 2018 were the largest EVER recorded in the past 43 years for any adolescent substance use outcome in the U.S.

Vaping involves the use of a battery-powered device to heat a liquid or plant material that releases chemicals in an inhalable aerosol. Examples of vaping devices include e-cigarettes, such as the popular brand JUUL and “mods.” The aerosol may contain nicotine, the active ingredients of marijuana, flavored propylene glycol, and/or flavored vegetable glycerin. The liquid that is vaporized comes in hundreds of flavors, many of which are likely to be attractive to teens (e.g., bubble gum and milk chocolate cream).

The percentage of 12th grade students who reported vaping nicotine in the past 30 days nearly doubled, rising from 11% in 2017 to 21% in 2018. As a result of the increase, one in five 12th grade students vaped nicotine in the last 30 days in 2018. For secondary students in grades 9 through 12 the increases in nicotine vaping translate into at least 1.3 million additional nicotine vapers in 2018 as compared to 2017.

To put the nicotine vaping increase in context, it is the largest out of more than one thousand reported year-to-year changes since 1975 for use of substances within the 30 days prior to the survey among 12th grade students.

In addition, the percent of 12th grade students who reported use of nicotine in the past 30 days significantly increased to 28.5% in 2018 from 23.7% in 2017. Nicotine use is indicated by any use of cigarettes, large cigars, flavored or regular small cigars, hookah, smokeless tobacco or a vaping device with nicotine. This increase was driven entirely by vaping.

What do these findings mean for you and for me in our work with kids?

  • We need to personally recognize the harmful effects of vaping. It is not a safer option that cigarette smoking.
  •  We need to use proven, research-based prevention strategies to address vaping and other substances with adolescents.
  • We need to equip parents with the tools to recognize and address vaping use with their children.
  • We need to advocate for more research on vaping and its adverse effects and more regulation of the marketing and sale of e-cigarettes to kids.

Since nicotine is involved in most vaping and it is a highly addictive substance, these findings present a serious threat to all of the hard-won progress we have made in the past 25 years in reducing cigarette smoking among adolescents.

If there was ever a trend we need to turn around, this is the one. I don’t want to read the 2019 MTF summary next year and be alarmed again and write another blog with news like this one. Let’s all do the work we need to do for the sake of our kids.

P.S. Did you know that our All Stars middle school series – Core, Booster and Plus – now addresses vaping as a risky behavior? Be sure to purchase the most up-to-date copyrighted materials every time you teach the program so you are giving your students the best the program has to offer!

How Your Kids Will Remember You

You are a leader. You are a leader of children. You are creating a legacy every day you come to work. You are leaving your mark – an indelible impression upon the kids entrusted to your care. How will your kids remember you?

I wonder…

They may not remember what your educational degree was.

They may not remember how many diplomas hung on your wall.

They may not remember the amazing lesson plans you created.

They may not remember how organized your bulletin boards were.

They may not remember how straight and neat the desk rows were.

They may not remember what their final grade was in your class.

There are plenty of things your kids will remember.

They will remember you listened and you always had time to listen.

They will remember that you expected the best for them and of them.

They will remember that you gave your time to them when you probably had other things to do.

They will remember that you were happy to be at work and seemed to really enjoy being there.

They will remember that you could be silly, you appreciated practical jokes and you never took yourself too seriously.

They will remember you asked them about their family members because you were genuinely interested.

They will remember that you cared enough to talk with them when they weren’t being or acting their best – and challenged them to be and do better.

They will remember that you gave them a second chance when no one else would.

They will remember you always had their back.

They will remember you noticed when they were absent and that you told them, “We missed you.”

They will remember how much you encouraged them and that you were one of their biggest cheerleaders.

They will remember that you treated each one of them like they were important.

They will remember that you always tried to give them the benefit of the doubt.

They will remember when you gave them a “shout out” and how good it made them feel.

They will remember you were always upbeat… even on days when it was hard to be.

They will remember that you didn’t ask them to do anything you weren’t willing to do yourself.

They will remember that you had fun and enjoyed being with them.

They will remember that you noticed when they were having a bad day and took the time to ask, “What’s wrong? Can I help?”

Kids can see through the flashy stuff and while it might impress them initially, it’s the  relationships we build with them that will leave a lasting impression. It’s the time we invest. It’s all the little ways we stop and show concern. It’s the love we share with them of learning, of life, and most importantly, of people.

So go back to your students and really take a look. As pressing as it may be, see past the behaviors, the issues and the concerns. Look beyond the stack of papers on your desk, the list of emails in your Inbox and the long “to do” list in your planner. Look. And you will see that it’s there – right inside you. The ability to make an impact. The chance of a lifetime to make a difference in a child’s life. And you can do it. It’s in you. I know it is.

Remember, you are leaving a legacy that surpasses test scores, lesson plans, outcomes, reports, budgets and even bulletin boards. Your kids will remember you for all the little things you did to show you cared about them. You were their leader and you encouraged them, supported them and inspired them. They will remember you because YOU made a difference and you knew THEY made a difference, too!

Lessons Learned from Stories Told

One of the best parts of my job is hearing stories from All Stars teachers after they have taught the program. Some stories make me laugh. Some stories make me proud. Some stories make me cry.

But, every story teaches me (and you!) a lesson that impacts our work with kids, especially in All Stars.

Here are three stories recently shared with me that all have lessons to teach us:

Story #1: Making an Impact Beyond the Student

Chelsea was a young middle school student who participated in All Stars at her church. All Stars gave her the opportunity to think about her future in ways she never had before. Every week as she left her All Stars class she was challenged to have conversations with an important adult in her life. Chelsea could choose who the adult would be. She choose her mom and dad.

No one outside the family knew that Chelsea’s father was abusing alcohol. Chelsea’s involvement in All Stars gave her and both of her parents an opportunity to explore the role alcohol was playing in their lives. These discussions were the catalyst for her father to seek treatment for his alcohol problem. Within several months of Chelsea’s graduation from All Stars her father began his road of recovery from alcoholism.

Since then, Chelsea and her family have relocated twice to different states. Each re-location had her leaving a support group of drug-free friends behind and the challenge of seeking a new group of friends. As she has moved on in life, one thing has remained the same – an All Stars commitment ring on her finger. In fact, Chelsea has worn out two rings and is now wearing her third All Stars commitment ring.

The impact All Stars has had on Chelsea and her family has motivated her grandmother to become involved with the program. She now volunteers as a facilitator of All Stars at the church where Chelsea participated.

Even though Chelsea was the one who participated in All Stars, the program’s impact went beyond her and into the lives of her parents and grandmother. They will all be first to admit that All Stars has changed their lives – and for the better!

Lesson to be Learned from Chelsea’s Story: When you teach All Stars, don’t be satisfied with just delivering the program. Expect to change lives. Expect to change lives beyond just the student in All Stars. And, take time to get to know your students and their family situations and be ready to give support and encouragement wherever you can.

Story #2: It’s Never Too Early

As told by the All Stars teacher:

I received a phone call from Megan, one of my All Stars students, on the evening of our last day of school – the same day as our All Stars celebration. She was sobbing as she related her story. She was staying overnight with two of her friends when they pulled out a pack of cigarettes and a lighter. They pressured her to try to smoke which she didn’t want to do. She told her friends that she forgot her pajamas and ran to her home not far away. When she got there, she told her mother what happened and asked if she could call me. When I asked Megan why she choose not to smoke the cigarettes, she said, “All I could think about was the All Stars commitments I made to myself, to my mom and to you. It was so hard. I didn’t want to let myself or you down.”

I asked if she thought she would have smoked the cigarettes if they had not talked about it in All Stars and she said, “I think I would have tried it because my friends said nothing would happen if I did it. But because of All Stars I knew something would have happened and that would have been breaking my commitments.”

Lesson Learned: This teacher never could have anticipated how soon after All Stars her student would face pressure and how she would react to it. You never know how or when they will be faced with their first encounter. Experiencing All Stars later would have been too late. Luckily, All Stars happened at the right time! As the girl’s mother said, “Thank, God, for All Stars!”

Story #3: Are You Reaching the Mikes in All Stars?

This story was shared in writing with me by an All Stars teacher:

Mike is one of those kids who would please everyone if he could. The only reason he participated in All Stars was because a friend wanted him to. He seemed to be enjoying himself, but no one could ever tell what was really going on inside of him. He was one of the most quiet students in the group.

His parents came to the All Stars Celebration and sat in the very front row. During the commitment video segment, I noticed his mother wiping away tears. When I asked her later what was going on, I got the following story.

Mike’s best friend had tried pot and was caught by his parents. Not only was Mike able to tell us, but he also confided in us that he had been offered some, as well. We feel very strongly that had it not been for his participation in All Stars he would not have had the courage to stand up and say “no” or the open forum to discuss it with us.

They thanked me for letting him be a part of the group and told me they thought I and All Stars had a huge impact on Mike’s life – maybe even saving it.

I walked away from the evening ready to do it all over again.

Lesson Learned from Mike’s Story: Even the most quiet students, like Mike, can be impacted with All Stars. You never know how the program is reaching kids like him, but you have to trust and believe that it is. Deliver All Stars with an open mind, welcoming arms and patience. What you do in All Stars does change lives.

Teens and Volunteerism: “Try It! They’ll Like It!”

I remember a summer day when I told my 8-year-old daughter and 11-year-old son that I was taking them to lunch. They were excited and quickly requested their favorite restaurant.

We got into the van and drove off. It didn’t take them long to notice I wasn’t going in the direction they expected me to go. Instead I parked in front of a local soup kitchen with people lined up outside waiting for lunch.

Confused, they asked, “Where are we? I thought we were going to lunch.” I reassured them they would get lunch but after they served lunch to others who couldn’t afford it. They cautiously got out of the van and walked by the line of people waiting and went in.

During the next hour we served lunch to over 150 people and when we were done we joined them to eat the leftovers. When we got back in the van to head home they couldn’t quit talking about what they had just done.

Before taking my children to the soup kitchen I worried about whether they were too young to do what they did, but when it was over I was convinced they weren’t. In fact, research says the earlier kids begin volunteering, the better. Kids who learn early to be caring, compassionate and helpful perform better in school and are more likely to graduate at the top of their class. Teens who volunteer look more attractive on college and scholarship applications. Teens who volunteer just two hours a week are also 50% less likely to use alcohol and cigarettes, become pregnant or engage in other risky behaviors.

Many youth might start volunteering because “they have to” for a school or youth group project. The amazing thing is, once they try it, they love it! Research shows that one positive volunteer experience is more likely to lead to more. Teens report they learn to respect others, to be helpful and kind, to understand people who are different from them, develop leadership skills, become more patient and better understand good citizenship. They feel empowered and valued.

Summer is a great time to connect kids with volunteer opportunities. It’s one of the most important things you can do for them. Volunteer opportunities aren’t hard to find for any age. Consider places of worship, hospitals, libraries, children’s museums, community centers, parks, zoon or local charities. Make volunteering a year-round commitment for students as they would to a sports team, dance, music group or club.

Today, my children are 29 and 26 years of age and since that summer day they have logged in over a thousand hours of volunteer time between both of them. I didn’t know the experience that day would have the long-term impact it did. At the same time, it doesn’t surprise me. My kids aren’t unique. Today’s teenagers volunteer 2.4 billion hours annually. More than one in four teens nationwide does some type of volunteer work. I guess research is right when it says, “Once they try it, they’ll love it!” The question is, “Have your students tried it?”