Sense & Sensitivity by Harriette Cole

Parent Finds Vape Pen in Teen Son’s Room

DEAR HARRIETTE: When I was straightening up my son’s room while he was at camp this summer, I found a vape pen inside his pillowcase. I knew that he has tried vaping, because we talked about it. But I was crystal clear with him that it is bad for him and that he should not continue it. He assured me that he did not like it, he did it a long time ago and it was over. I was shocked to find this little thing that looks like a USB drive in his pillow.

How should I address this with him? I want to keep the lines of communication open. He is a teenager, so I know he will try things, but I don’t want him to lie. -- Don’t Vape

DEAR DON’T VAPE: Keeping an even tone, present your findings to your son, and tell him that you found it in his room when you were cleaning up. Ask him why he had it. Give him space to answer. Tell him that you want to trust him, but you recall that he said he tried vaping but did not like it; you do not understand why he would have a vape pen in his possession.

Use this opportunity to ask him to tell you what else he has tried. Create space for the two of you to talk. If you are too harsh, he may lie or shut down and not talk to you. You can make it clear that you do not approve of nicotine or drug use. You can also let him know that you want to be able to talk openly with him about his choices and that you understand that sometimes he will make mistakes. That said, do not give him back the vape pen!

DEAR HARRIETTE: My mother is having a big birthday, and she wants to have a party. My siblings and I are going to host it for her, which will be great. At first I wasn’t involved in any of the planning. I asked to participate, and now I am getting details. Among them is the cost of the event. I feel terrible. I used to be successful in my career, but I have fallen on hard times. I cannot afford to pay an equal share in the cost of the event. I hate having to say this to my siblings. It makes me feel like such a loser. The reality is, though, that I don’t have the money. How should I address this? I don’t want to ignore it, because it will just get awkward later. -- Elephant in the Room

DEAR ELEPHANT IN THE ROOM: You need to be upfront with your siblings right away. You may want to choose to talk to the one with whom you are the closest. State what is likely obvious to all of them: You have limited resources. Express your desire to help with the party in whatever ways that you can, but make it clear that you cannot afford to split the bill with them. You can offer to contribute a particular amount that is manageable to you, possibly over time. Offer to contribute in other ways that may be helpful and that may be valuable responsibilities that you can assume rather than incurring additional costs.

(Harriette Cole is a lifestylist and founder of DREAMLEAPERS, an initiative to help people access and activate their dreams. You can send questions to or c/o Andrews McMeel Syndication, 1130 Walnut St., Kansas City, MO 64106.)