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Alcohol advertisements affect drinking behaviors in kids

February 08, 2013

During the last week’s Super Bowl, how many of you sat down to watch the game, only to be entertained by the infamous commercials? I bet many of you would raise your hand, kids included. Each year, the commercials continue to steal the show and are often talked about in the days after. But have you noticed how popular the commercials featuring alcohol, specifically beer products, are among kids?

These entertaining commercials aren’t just aired during the Super Bowl, they show up in many of kids’ favorite TV shows and other media sources. While these ads are directed towards adults, kids get lured in, too. According to a Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration report, 42% of teens reported drinking some amount of alcohol, and of teens that do drink, 65% reported they’ve been drunk in the last month!

A recent study showed that kids who found alcohol advertisements favorable were likely to drink more, and were more susceptible to drinking-related problems as they got older. Surprised? Don’t be. In their quest to fit in with peers, young teens are easily misguided by these persuasive ads that identify alcohol with a good time, cool friends, and high social status.

The study

The study published in the journal Pediatrics took a closer look at the effects of alcohol advertisement on kids’ drinking behavior. Researchers proposed that exposure to alcohol advertisements led to underage drinking, and underage drinking led to alcohol-related problems. After an intensive study of 3,890 students over a 4-year span, studying them from 7th grade to 10th grade, the researchers’ theory was shown to be true.

When compared to kids who had a dislike, or were indifferent towards alcohol advertisements, kids in 7th grade that found these ads favorable reported higher rates of underage drinking by the time they had reached the 10th grade.

What can you do about it?

Oftentimes, many parents are oblivious to their child’s social behaviors, not wanting to believe that their child would experiment with alcohol at such a young age. Well guess what – there is a 1 in 4 chance that your child has consumed alcohol at least once. And the TV that your child is watching plays a big role in this risky behavior.

So, let’s talk about what you can proactively do to decrease the chance of your child engaging in underage drinking.

Teach your kids about the power of persuasive messaging. Every advertisement has one goal: to drive you to their product and engage in their brand.  And they will do this at all cost. Take for example Bud Light’s tagline “prepared to do whatever it takes.” Teaching your kids to be aware of this kind of persuasive messaging will help them identify the pitfalls in persuasive advertising.  

Set a limit on the exposure of children to alcohol ads. This can be a tricky one, because these ads are seemingly everywhere: on TV, the Internet, and in popular magazines. It would be nearly impossible to restrict all exposure to these ads (unless you banned all types of media), but you can decrease the amount that your child is exposed to by decreasing the amount of time spent on various media channels. Encourage them to get outside and play with their friends, instead of watching TV, or maybe buy a magazine as a treat for your kids, instead of subscribing to a yearly subscription.

While we don’t have the power to remove all alcohol advertisements from kids’ favorite TV shows, magazine, or Internet site, parents DO have the power to limit it. It’s important for you, as a parent, to become educated on these things influencing your kids’ behaviors, so that you can openly communicate with your child about these issues.

It’s better to be proactive, than reactive to any given situation, especially when it comes to kids and underage drinking.