Alcohol Ads on TV Affect Children’s Perception on Drinking

Monday, December 23, 2013

A new study finds children view too many alcohol ads on television and the number exceeds the industry’s decade-old voluntary standard.

Researchers from Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health evaluated advertisements appearing on television programs in 25 local television markets ad found youth exposure exceeded guidelines set by alcohol companies. In 2003, the industry agreed “not to air any ads during programs where more than 30 percent of the audience watching is young,” reported WJZ, a CBS affiliate in Baltimore. One of the authors said that the study “shows that agreement isn’t exactly being followed.”

Britlan Malek, PsyD, a clinical psychologist in Children’s National Health System’s Child Development Program, agrees that ads have a strong effect on young people. Dr. Malek specializes in developmental delays and autism spectrum disorder in young children.

“It’s definitely not white noise. There have been studies for decades that show the correlation between the amount of exposure among middle-school students and how likely they are to idealize alcohol,” she said.

Malek said ads affect a child’s view of the appropriateness of drinking and can challenge his or her moral views on the behavior of drinking. Not surprisingly, the ads also increase the likelihood that a child will start to drink at a younger age.

Sixth to eighth grade is a crucial period, Malek said, because “that’s the age when the peer group becomes very, very important to a child’s self-identification.”

It is also a time when young people lean “away from the messages that their parents are sending,” and form and act upon their own opinions. Malek said that in high school, you see teens who are more confident and if they have formed positive strong anti-drinking views, they are more resilient to the influence of these ads.

“By then they have already made up their minds about a lot of things,” Malek said, adding that younger teens are more impressionable.

Malek said that young people, between ages 12-20, on average view nearly 280 alcohol ads a year or 23 ads per month.

“We’re also talking about kiosks at sporting events and in-store displays, billboards that you drive past, and magazines geared toward young people,” Malek said. “There’s also strategic product placement in movies and banner ads that pop up online on websites young people visit. A high percentage of a child’s daily exposure to media has the possibility of being infiltrated by these ads.”

Malek emphasizes that parents can feel empowered to curb and monitor their children’s exposure to these ads.

“It’s our job to put up a protective barrier for our children,” Dr. Malek said. “Parents shouldn’t feel shy or embarrassed to talk about their own views on alcohol with their children, even at an early age, so their opinions could already be set. With your own views you can really help shape, from a young age, your child’s opinion that hopefully gives them an inoculation from all the exposure that they’re going to have.”

Here's some advice from the U.S. Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration on how to prevent underage drinking:

  • Practice talking to your kids about the dangers of alcohol
  • Be involved in your children’s lives
  • Be aware of factors that may increase the risk of a child’s alcohol use
  • Be a positive adult role model
  • Set clear rules and enforce them; do not let them go to parties where alcohol is served
  • Find ways for your children to be involved in family life such as doing chores or caring for a younger sibling
  • Help kids avoid dangerous situations such as riding in a car driven by someone who has been drinking
  • Help kids get professional help if you are worried about their involvement with alcohol
  • Create a pledge in your home that promises they will not drink alcohol

Categories: Teens
Topics: Substance Abuse
Authors: Jeannine Hunter


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