Will Your Teen Celebrate 420?

Tips on Teens #029

April 20th is just around the corner! HURRAY!!! Are you ready to celebrate this very popular holiday? Is your house decorated? Do you have the appropriate holiday music playing?  

Popular holiday? Persian New Year has already passed and Easter falls on the 21st.  What’s on April 20th?

It’s a day celebrated by millions of people worldwide, especially among adolescents. This holiday often brings a sense of joy and the feeling of righteousness to its devotees.

Do you mean Passover or Earth Day?

While Passover does fall on April 20th this year, that’s not the holiday I’m talking about. Additionally, Earth Day is on April 22nd (remember to recycle).  April 20th also known as 420 (always celebrated on April 20th) is a day shrouded in secrecy from parents and authorities but highly anticipated among peers and friends.  About as much thought goes into making plans for this day as friends would scrutinize over what they’re going to wear to prom or how they’re going to celebrate graduation night.  And the secrecy of it all makes it that much more fun.

What can 420 possibly symbolize?  You’re not referring to Hitler’s birthday, are you?  

While it is coincidentally the birthday of Adolf Hitler, and that bit of unfortunate trivia does add mystery to the day, it is most likely NOT the reason your teen is looking forward to April 20th.  

420 is widely known as International Pot Smoking Day!  Obviously, this is not a holiday condoned by your local, state or federal government (unless perhaps you live in Colorado or Washington).  You won’t be getting a paid day off from work and the schools will not be closed for 420.  However, many teens and adults alike take the opportunity to celebrate this day by getting high at least once if not several times on that day.  Even some teens who generally don’t smoke will use it as a convenient excuse to fit in or feel more independent from parents’ and teachers’ expectations.

Teenagers smoking marijuana in a car

Where have I been?  How did 420 become International Pot Smoking Day?

There are plenty of rumors and myths, but you should know that 420 is not the amount of the various chemicals found in marijuana, it is not the police code for someone smoking weed nor is it the temperature at which marijuana burns.  Those are all myths.  It seems that the real story started way back in 1971 in San Rafael, California. A group of high school students nicknamed, “The Waldos” heard of an abandoned group of marijuana plants growing out in the open and they wanted to harvest it.  They all agreed to meet at a statue of Louis Pasture at 4:20pm after school (420 actually started as a time not a date).  Legend has it that they never did find those plants, but they did obviously get really stoned before and during their search… maybe that’s why they failed to locate them.  Long story short, “420” became the Waldos’ code word for smoking weed so they could discuss it in front of parents, teachers and anyone else from whom they wanted to keep it secret.  

Okay, but how did it spread from one small group of teens over forty years ago into an international sensation?

After high school, the Waldos all got involved with the rock band, The Grateful Dead and it’s subculture.  Somehow the slang spread within that realm until High Times Magazine (a cannabis awareness publication) helped to expose the phrase even further during the 1990s.  April 20th is now a date that inspires pro-marijuana rallies and protests all over the world. 

So, it’s really just a day that is celebrated by potheads.  I’m sure I don’t have anything to worry about with my kid.

As I mentioned earlier, kids may look at this holiday as a day to let loose, or a day to try to fit in a little bit more.  Or maybe your son has fallen in love with Becky from History class and he sees this as the perfect opportunity to show her that he’s part of the “cool” crowd.  Peer pressure is tough to handle, and perhaps even harder to deal with in this era than when you were a teenager.  And we all know that a 16 year old with a developing 16-year-old brain can, and is expected to make some pretty unwise choices. 

There you go again, Kent.  Opening up a can of worms that I just didn’t need opened.  What am I supposed to do with this information now?

Now that you know something that your kid assumes you know nothing about, use it as a starting point to have a really open and respectful conversation.

Wow!  Open and respectful conversation… With my kid… how am I supposed to do that with this information?

You can use this info about 420 to learn about stances that your teen has on various subjects.  The key to having an open and respectful conversation with your teenager is for you to set the example of openness and respect throughout the entire conversation.  Hold your judgments inside and do a lot of listening, instead of talking. Here are some issues that you could cover that can start with this topic of 420: 

  • Drug use
  • The decriminalization and possible legalization of marijuana
  • Secrecy
  • Conformity vs. non-conformity
  • Decision-making

Do these sound like heavy topics to cover with your teenager?  Yes!  But all the more reason to have these conversations.  More than likely your kid will be wary to get too deep with you on any of these subjects as she may be concerned that anything she says can be used against her later on.  

Remember these three simple equations when talking with your teenager:

  1. You talking a lot = Your teenager zoning out a lot
  2. You listening a lot = Your teenager talking more than she used to
  3. Your teenager talking a lot = You learning a lot about who she is and how she thinks

Let me give you a little more help…

  1. State what you know instead of asking questions where you already know the answers.
    1. Don’t start with: “Do any of your friends smoke weed?”  Try a less attacking and less snooping statement such as: “I know that you probably have friends who smoke weed. I’m not going to ask you who they are.  I don’t even know what kind of exposure you’ve had to marijuana but I just read this interesting article on 420 and found the idea pretty fascinating.  What’s your take on an international holiday just for smoking pot?”
    2. If you set your teen up to lie, he will and then you and your teen will be sidetracked from the real conversation.
    3. Keeping the topic broad may be less threatening than going for the jugular and asking, “Are you smoking weed?”  Consequently, this can lead to a candid conversation and less intimidating way to share opinions.
  2. It’s worth repeating: Listen more and talk less.
    1. He probably already knows how you feel about pot.  He doesn’t need a 45-minute lecture on how marijuana is bad for him.  
    2. Be mindful of what you say and how you say it and how it will affect your kid.  Be sensitive to his anxiety of being judged, criticized or punished by you.  The mere fact that you have brought this up to him already has his heart pounding.
  3. When your teen says something that you don’t agree with or outright scares the heck out of you, make sure you breathe and stay calm.  
    1. Remain the adult and keep your listening ears open.  This will help to keep the conversation going by inviting your teenager to talk more about his opinions.  
    2. The more he talks, the more he can question his own beliefs.  The more you talk, the more he will feel defensive about his beliefs and want to protect them.

I think my teenager is lying about smoking.  I know she’s getting high.  How am I supposed to address the lies?

That’s a big question.  Dealing with a teenager who is lying is a delicate matter.  If you’re not careful in how you approach her, you just might set her up to lie even more, thus the vein in your forehead will bulge with record breaking rhythms, signifying that your blood pressure is skyrocketing from your rage at being lied to.  I invite you to read Tips on Teens #014 – All Teenagers Lie… Often! for a more in-depth look at how to cope when your teenager lies.

So, what ever happened to the Waldos and where can I find them to wring their stupid necks?

Interestingly enough, according to a story in The Huffington Post from 2009, the Waldos are all currently successful businessmen. They report that their weed consumption is rare now as they have grown up and recognized how heavy usage brings about too many problems.  This is to be noted as many people who experiment with drugs and alcohol in their teens and early 20s eventually grow up and move on from habitual substance use.  Unfortunately, not everyone does obviously, as there is a large addiction problem in our society, and yes, marijuana is emotionally addictive.  But thankfully, most do move onward and upward from that experimentation phase… including most of you reading this article (statistically speaking).

I encourage you to do your own research on 420 and marijuana use.  If you have more questions, please feel free to contact me any time and I’ll be happy to provide you with a complimentary phone consultation to discuss in more detail about how best to approach this issue or any other that is affecting your family. 

(updated article from April 2012) 

Remember that adolescence is a temporary mental disorder… and it will pass within a few years.

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Contact Us For More Information if you have more questions or would like more information, please contact our Clinical Director, Kent Toussaint at 818.697.8555.