Daring, Risking, Vaping

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Education Minister gets tough on rising e-cigarette scourge at schools

Kids in some WA schools are daring one another to use e-cigarettes in class, while other schools are being forced to lock up toilet blocks to stop students from vaping during recess.

The West can reveal an increase in teens vaping at school has prompted Education Minister Sue Ellery to demand a solution before the problem spirals out of control.

One principal of a Perth public high school said it had resorted to locking a toilet block this week because “huge numbers” of senior schoolboys were vaping in there.

“It’s definitely built up over the last 18 months,” he said.

Another principal said her school was suspending around one child a week for vaping.  [from the West Australian, 02/04/2022 eEdition].

Will the “get tough” policy, the suspensions and the locked toilet blocks work?  

Will this provide a solution to the problem of vaping?

Unfortunately, not. In fact, if anything it is likely to provide an incentive to students to see if and how they can circumnavigate the ‘get tough’ policies that are put into place.

This doesn’t mean, we shrug our shoulders and give up the effort to stop young people vaping. It does mean we need to think more deeply and more imaginatively to develop effective solutions to this issue.

The challenge for many Public Health and Law Enforcement campaigns is they target rational, logical thinking to provide solutions in situations where logic and rationality are in short supply.  This comes from the belief that people are fundamentally logical and rational. However, what we are learning is people make emotional decisions and then use logic to justify those decisions.

This is something we see all the time at Youth Legal Service.  Young people make an emotional decision, for example, they are feeling tense and anxious and so use weed to relax.  They are with a group of friends, and get bored, to liven things up they dare each other to graffiti or if they are driving somewhere they dare each other to speed, drive recklessly or hoon.

If they are caught by the Police for using illegal substances, graffitiing, or driving in a reckless manner they or their parents use logic to try and rationalise the emotional decisions they have made. When they are seeking advice from lawyers, it is never because they were wanting to relax, or they were bored, there are always logical reasons that are provided.

How does this apply to vaping? Tough solutions, locking toilet blocks are all logical solutions, however emotional decisions will always trump logical ones particularly as teenagers.  Part of the reason for this is maturational development of teenager’s pre-frontal cortex.  The prefrontal cortex which is the rational, logical decision maker of the brain is still developing and maturing in teenagers which is why they are more likely to make emotional decisions.  Because the rational, logical aspect of the brain is still developing it is easier for it to be swamped and overridden by emotions.

Actions such as daring to vape in a classroom when the teacher’s back is turned, will override logical decisions such as it being rude to the teacher, damaging the student’s health, and putting the student’s education at risk.  These logical reasons are over-ridden by the emotional charge that comes with the adrenaline release of a dare.

Tough solutions are very often worse-case solutions for teenagers because they simply raise the bar in terms of a challenge for the young person. Very often the most effective solutions for teenagers have two parts to them.  The first is to lower the bar, to remove the element of challenge, to remove the element of dare because then there is no emotional charge.  The second is to provide a dare or the risk in ways that give teenagers something to challenge themselves against. They are daring themselves, taking the risk to challenge themselves to achieve the goal they want, rather than simply taking the dare of challenging authority figures.


 – Written by David Kernohan, Director of Youth Legal Services

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