Alcohol in the Media: Tips for Parents

Filed under: Tween Culture, Teen Culture, New In Pop Culture

In "Superbad," teens try to use a fake ID to buy alcohol for a party. Credit: Sony

Mixing alcohol and entertainment affects kids.

Don't people have fun in alcohol ads? And they make a big impression on your kids. Alcohol ads have become entertainment in their own right. One of the most popular plot lines for teen movies is scoring alcohol for a party. There are even mobile apps centered on drinking. It's nearly impossible to undo all this influence, but you can try to balance it with honest discussions about drinking and by keeping an eye on what's influencing your kids.

What is alcohol advertising?

Your kids and teens get all sorts of messages about drinking and drugs from the media. And mostly what they see is that it's fun and exciting and it's what celebrities and popular people do. Not only do they see alcohol ads on TV, but also drinking and drunkenness on shows and movies targeting teens. Alcohol companies also target teens by using new media that's interactive, including social networks, viral videos, mobile cell phone updates and downloadable apps. The viral nature of the Web allows advertisers to reach kids directly with an addictive game or funny video -- and in ways that kids may not recognize as advertising.

Why it matters

There is a direct link between role models and advertising, and the effect that both have on your kids' behavior. Alcohol companies know this, and that's why they go after your kids. The more alcohol ads young people see, the more they drink. According to one 2006 study, each additional dollar alcohol companies spend on advertising raises the number of drinks youths consume by 3 percent.

Studies have shown that the more kids drink before their brains are fully developed (in their early 20s), the more likely they are to develop lifelong alcohol dependencies. In fact, kids who start drinking before they turn 15 are four times more likely to become alcoholics than adults who begin drinking at 21. But parents can mitigate these statistics. A 2010 study by Dartmouth Medical School showed that parents who restrict R-rated movies (where alcohol is often part of the story) actually counteract the peer pressure on their kids to start drinking.

Parent tips for elementary school kids

Keep them away from alcohol ads. Mute the ads when they come on. Especially the funny ones because the kids remember them and repeat them. One recent study showed that elementary kids could name almost all the alcohol brands showed to them but could only identify two past presidents.

Parent tips for middle and high school kids

Spell it out. Let your kids know about marketing and that alcohol advertisers are trying to hook them on their brands -- just to get more money in their pockets. Help your children decode ads' messages: What kind of lifestyle are they selling? Do these ads tell the whole story -- or do they leave something out (such as DUIs, addiction, liver disease, etc.)?

Moderate alcohol on TV. You have a right to say no to programs that seem to celebrate teen drinking or show too many alcohol ads. This goes for movies, radio stations, magazines, and websites, too. Check out our reviews to see how a program portrays alcohol, then set your own rules.

Look for teachable moments. If you're watching a TV show, and there's a scene featuring teen drinking, or you read about a celebrity arrested for doing drugs, check in with your kids. Ask them if their peers are using alcohol, or if they have any anxieties or questions about drinking. Take time to share your opinions -- and expectations -- about teens and drinking.
Watch your messages. Be a good role model by not being drunk in front of your kids or by not using alcohol to escape problems. Make sure that you don't glamorize alcohol or drugs by sharing stories about "wild days" in your past.

Keep an eye on alcohol ads embedded in new media. You don't want your kids to follow Smirnoff on Facebook or Twitter, download the latest Budweiser mobile app, or be influenced by other ways that alcohol companies are embedding their messages.

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Get more information for parents on media and technology by checking out Common Sense Media.

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Start by teaching him that it is safe to do so.