By Caroline Knorr, Common Sense Media
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.
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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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