What is 420?  Like any urban legend, the genesis of 420 has been routinely discussed and debated. While there are many potential origins for how 420 came to be, the general consensus is that it began with a group of teenage boys living in California in the 1970s. The boys nicknamed themselves “The Waldos” because they routinely hung out next to a particular wall at the back of their high school. The boys had heard about a secret patch of marijuana growing somewhere near Point Reyes Peninsula and decided to find it. They planned to meet at 4:20 p.m. to begin their search.  They never found the secret patch of marijuana, but the term 420 stuck and they began to use the term to communicate about anything weed related. Now, April 20th (4/20) is a day that people around the world come together to celebrate cannabis culture, regardless of whether it is legal, decriminalized, or still considered illegal. Since 420 is known as a national day of celebration for marijuana users, and there may very well be 420 celebrations in your community, this is a great opportunity to have important conversations with youth about adolescent marijuana use.

Talking to Your Teen About Marijuana: The Dos and Don’ts

DON’T avoid the conversation. It has been stated over and over, that parents have the greatest influence in a child’s life. Many believe this powerful influence supersedes that of peers, teachers, and even social media. This powerful natural influence combined with ongoing conversations can drastically reduce your teen’s use of drugs and alcohol. Even if you are a cannabis user yourself, it is important that you discuss with your child the important differences between adult use and youth use.  

DO talk about their brain. Helping children understand the importance of their developing brain and how their decisions can affect it is often the first step in empowering them to make healthy choices. There is a round of rapid brain cell formation that begins just before puberty and is followed by a process called “pruning” that continues throughout adolescence. During this important time, the brain produces an abundance of cells and synapses (connections) and then prunes back the connections that are not being used. Imagine this process to be like pruning a tree. By cutting back weak branches, other branches are given the opportunity to flourish. The THC in cannabis can have a direct effect on the important pruning process in the adolescent brain. This is why adolescent marijuana use is of particular concern and differs from that of adult use.  

DO ask your child what they know or what they have heard specifically about marijuana. This opens the door for conversation, gives you some insight into what they might be hearing from peers, and provides an opportunity to share the facts with them.

DON’T stop there. Keep the conversation going. Adolescence is a time of testing limits, pushing boundaries, and seeking independence. Just because a teen might have made a decision that you don’t support does not mean the conversation is over. Continuous and open conversations ensure that adolescents have a clear understanding of expectations and boundaries surrounding adolescent marijuana use.

The Marijuana Education Initiative (MEI) program offers marijuana-specific post-legalization curricula. For more information and access to a free parent guide, please visit our website: marijuana-education.com


Sarah Grippa

After working as a criminal and family law paralegal for many years, Sarah decided to follow her passion and pursue a career in education. She returned to college and earned a BA in education with an endorsement in K–12 special education. Sarah later earned additional endorsements in language arts and health. She has worked with special education students in middle school and high school and worked as a general education language arts and health teacher at an alternative high school. Her work at the alternative education campus led Sarah to co-found the Marijuana Education Initiative with Molly Lotz. Together, she and Molly work with specialists and professionals in diverse fields to create unbiased, reality-based marijuana prevention and intervention curricula as well as alternative-to-suspension programming, parent information guides, and online learning modules. Sarah couples her experience in the classroom with her knowledge in youth-specific marijuana prevention efforts to successfully work with educators, communities, legislators, state agencies, and industry leaders across the country to ensure educational practices keep pace with changing norms.

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