What Parents Need to Know About 4/20

How to protect your kids as mainstream brands jump on the weed wagon. By Caroline Knorr
What Parents Need to Know About 4/20

Do you know about 4/20? If you have a tween or teen, chances are they know all about this celebration of marijuana that occurs every year on April 20. And it's not just from whispers in the hallway or the pothead group at school. Popular, mainstream brands, including Ben & Jerry's, Chipotle, Totino's, and even Denny's tweet, snap, and 'gram ads that subtly -- or not so subtly -- show support for 4/20. Who's most likely to get a chuckle out of a family restaurant joking about the munchies? Kids. And since these ads only run on places like Twitter, Snapchat, Instagram, and Facebook, it's kids -- not grown-ups -- who are the ones most likely to view them.

However you feel about grown-ups using marijuana, you probably don't want companies piggybacking on pot to make kids think they're cool. It's worth repeating: Marijuana remains illegal for kids and has proven risks to developing brains. But try getting your kids to listen when their feeds are filling up with references to 4/20. Consider these from last year: "It's high time for some Pizza Rolls" (Totino's); "Sometimes you need a huge bowl to get you through the day" (Chipotle); and "Secret stash" (Burger King).

It's no surprise then that pot use by kids is on the rise again. A Colorado Children's Hospital saw four times as many stoned teens land in the ER after that state legalized marijuana. Promoting 4/20 Day may not be the reason for this trend -- but it isn't helping. 

Raising drug-free kids in an era of legalization, widespread acceptance, and overt marketing of marijuana is one of the biggest challenges of parenting today. Attitudes are changing, as evidenced by big-name brands capitalizing on the shift. But you can't laugh it off. Normalizing pot use among kids -- which is what happens when brands hitch their wagons to 4/20 -- poses real health risks to kids. You can lecture about how bad pot is for growing brains and try to get kids to wait as long as possible to try it -- and that may work. But also consider helping kids think critically about the content they see online. Asking questions and seeing where they lead may make 4/20 and the brands that support it not look so groovy after all.

Follow the money. Kids may not realize a tweet or a meme (an image that goes viral) is actually an advertisement. But if it's from a company, it's promotional. Ask kids about the tricks marketers use to disguise what are really ads -- for example, tweets, memes, and filters on Snapchat that actually promote brands. Does it make a brand cool if it can fool you? Or does it make them seem desperate to seem like a cool kid?

Talk about age gates -- and how easy it is to get around them. You're supposed to enter your birth date to see online content that's intended for adults, such as sites that sell vaping equipment. But age gates are easy to get around. Ask kids if they or their friends are more tempted to buy drug paraphernalia online because no one is checking their ages.

What's missing? From movies such as Harold & Kumar Go to White Castle to memes that treat marijuana as a joke, it's all fun and games until you overdose, have a bad experience, become demotivated, or hurt yourself. Talk about the real aftermath of getting high and how the negatives are never represented online.

Remember, companies don't care about you. They may be funny, clever, cool, or witty. But if they're using pot as a vehicle for promoting their product, they don't care about your health and well-being. They're just using a convenient hook to appeal to their demographic.

Impart your values. Teens are still listening to you, despite much evidence to the contrary. Discuss what's important to you: good character, solid judgment, and belief in a bright future -- all of which are compromised by pot use.

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About Caroline Knorr

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As Common Sense Media's parenting editor, Caroline helps parents make sense of what’s going on in their kids' media lives. From games to cell phones to movies and more, if you're wondering "what’s the right age for…?"... Read more

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Comments (25)

Adult written by isabellalinds

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Teen, 16 years old written by Bman00

As a teenager I advocate marijuana because people that have a good life will smoke marijuana as a way to further enhance their life they will go through a short period when they just want to smoke all the time but then they realize as they grow older and more intelligent that smoke weed is meant to enhance your life not take it over. Also the article says people can overdose and that is a lie no one every died from marijuana itself the only way to overdose is smoking 1500 pounds in 1 minuets and that is impossible do you can not overdose. It states that Good character belief in a bright future and good judgement are compromised by smoking pot and that is not true because people that I know are going to Harvard and have a 4.0 gpa and smoke marijuana regularly. Also if you have good judgement when they are not high then they will most likely have good judgement when high.
Teen, 13 years old written by danksun

with the exception of potheads and people who already use cannabis, 4/20 really isn't more than a joke to other people
Teen, 13 years old written by Extractinator

I don’t know what to say. The writer has a great point, but everyone in the comments seems to disagree, so I won’t say anything.
Parent of a 15 and 18+ year old written by Patric D.

Marijuana is not a safe drug. It is illegal. It stunts brain growth in young people. Yes, you can overdose on marijuana. This article was not about alcohol. This article did not discuss medically approved marijuana. It discussed how companies manipulate media and make impressions on youth. It was an informative and discussion provoking article. My own child mentioned 420 at the dinner table which led to a great family discussion (before I read this article). I had never heard of it before he said it, then I got this article. I had hoped it was nothing--a high school thing, but this showed me I was wrong.
Teen, 13 years old written by garnol

It can definitely stunt brain growth, and it has high potential to make you experiment with worse drugs, and other than for medical purposes nobody under 21 should do it. But you can't overdose on marijuana.
Adult written by Barry S.

Very grateful to you for this helpful, truthful and fair assessment of the current situation. (My teenager agrees.)
Parent written by MorningS

While I agree kids should stay away from drugs, alcohol, and anything they are not age able to get, this is over the top panic. Almost an attack ad.
Teen, 14 years old written by Reid Pelton

Completely. It's not even possible to overdose on marijuana. It's legitimately impossible to ingest enough marijuana to end up in the ER. This article is fear-mongering.
Parent of a 4, 5, and 8 year old written by Mary E.

Hi, Reid. I’m a physician specializing in addiction—so substances such as alcohol, marijuana, heroin, and methamphetamine fall within my expertise. I am worried about where you are receiving your misinformation. It is not only possible, it is becoming more common for people—including teenagers—to show up in the ER psychotic because they used THC (in smoked, “edible,” or other forms). In many cases, the psychosis resolves over time. In other cases the psychosis is permanent. It’s not a high frequency, but if it happens to you, it’s 100%. Meaning you are now 100% schizophrenic because you used marijuana—and it doesn’t have to be heavy or long-term use. If the proven retardation of brain development and ultimate cognitive performance is not enough to deter you from using THC in your adolescence (hey, maybe you don’t really need that 6 extra IQ points in adulthood?), perhaps the real possibility of a psychotic disorder will. In addition: Because of its delayed onset and longer effective half-life, people are just as likely to overdose on oral (“edible”) THC as on smoked forms. It has become so prevalent in Emergency Medicine that the ER docs calling cannabis-induced psychosis “greening out.” I cannot tell you the prevalence, but I can tell you that I see patients with it every single day that I work. I hope, Reid, that you have health insurance and can consult a physician specializing in substance use and abuse. Our information is based on science, not politics/culture/profit. You have my warmest regards and my highest hopes. If you’re going to use THC, I hope you’ll choose to decrease the risk by at least waiting until your brain is mostly developed around age 25.
Teen, 16 years old written by Bman00

Edible can get people higher thenthey usually get if they haven’t be smoking for a while but greening out is just freaking out because you think you smoked to much it’s just bad paranoia
Parent written by Damian F.

Cannabis saved my child’s life. She went from having seizures every single day to having few health problems at all. School was not an option. We had decided to avoid putting her in public school, because she wouldn’t benefit from the normal lessons anyway. Now she’s seven years old, and in second grade like normal. She’s an incredibly fast learner. Whenever she starts complaining about feeling “heavy”, we give her a few drops of cannabis, and she’s back to being a normal kid. Quit with the anti pot narrative, and actually look at the benefits. It’s saving families.
Parent of a 16 year old written by PF

Damian, the medical benefits of cannabis are not the point of the article. There is a massive difference for using cannabis for medical purposes vs. recreational use. I'm not going to get into a debate about cannabis vs alcohol or the merits of cannabis for recreational use. I'm simply pointing one must distinguish between the two and this article is clearly addressing recreational use - not medical use.
Adult written by Jayraygel

How many ER visits are needed for alcohol? How many car accidents occur due to this? How many ER visits are needed for opioids? How many car accidents occur due to this? How many ER visits are needed for marijuana? How many car accidents occur due to this? Provide statistics. I find it hard to believe that you can even mention the ER without providing these. The article does indeed demonize marijuana instead of looking into the multitude of benefits. I cannot agree with your article. Instead of negative approaches, why not educate children on the risks and benefits of using medical marijuana?
Adult written by sweetheart00

Please google ER visits in Colorado. When marijuana laws were first passed in Colorado , their ER visits shot WAY up due to people experiencing psychosis after smoking pot. Not just Colorado, by the way. The marijuana available now is far stronger than any pot that grew in our backyard in the 70s or 80's or 90's. Please be informed. the brain does not stop developing until late 20's. Maybe 30. Marijuana is an insult to developing brains. Young people can become psychotic after smoking. Maybe not right away, but sometimes. Other times it is after cumulative use. Regardless, I know. I work in the mental health field. I see it everyday. Have you witnessed the devastation of psychosis and what it does to young people and their families?
Parent of a 1, 5, and 9 year old written by jim from maine

Jay, I was a drug counselor at a year-long residential rehab serving teens and young adults (and I have used pot many times). Our clients were hardcore drug users whose lives had been destroyed. I got to know them very, very well. Virtually every one of them said they started out with drugs by just smoking a little pot, and they rued the fact that adults in their lives were clueless about the dangers. Sure, many people who smoke pot don't end up like those young people. But a pretty large number do . And for them, pot was the doorway to hell (and in some cases, death). You can't simply pretend that isn't true.
Teen, 16 years old written by Bman00

Your basically saying marijuana is a gateway drug and that’s not true people that do other drugs usually don’t have a good life or don’t want to live
Parent written by Lee C.

This article seems very anti marijuana. Companies promote alcohol all the time. Rather than scare our kids about drug use, isn't it better to explain moderation. Also, pot culture has a lot more depth to it than just drug use. I think it is good to allow kids to be into the laid back vibe of the music and culture around 4/20 without having to use the drug at all. It is an opportunity to explain the history of the 1960/1970's and the Grateful Dead or what a Rastafarian actually is. It is not meant to be scary or bad. And, will make you sound more authentic when you also describe how it can be misused and and overused.
Parent written by Benjamin R.

Overdose: noun 1. an excessive and dangerous dose of a drug. Marijuana can be used in excess and it can cause psychosis, either temporary or permanent. People with a developing brain cause damage to their brain if they use marijuana. I think you need to look it up, read some real scientifically sound research. Death is only one possible outcome of a substance overdose.

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