Nanette Nuessle, MD
Winter is upon us. Play-off season is here. Beer ads are on T.V.
Research shows that more than $6 billion per year is spent on advertising and promoting alcohol. Children view 1000-2000 alcohol ads annually. According to the AAP Policy Statement on Children, Adolescents, Substance Abuse and the Media (1), many of these advertisements are concentrated during teen-oriented shows and sports programming. By grade school, many children can identify the cute little animals used to promote certain alcoholic beverages as easily as they can identify Bugs Bunny. It sounds appalling, but parents who watch television with their children know this to be true.
What parents might not realize is that there is an established link between ads and teen drinking. "Young people with more positive affective responses to alcohol advertising hold more favorable drinking expectancies, perceive greater social approval for drinking, believe drinking is more common among peers and adults, and intend to drink more as adults."(2) As adults we know that people who drink aren’t happier. But surprisingly, many of our children and teens believe that they are. After all, they’re shown that you can’t enjoy a sports event without beer. They’re told that the highlight of a holiday party is the mixed drink. Even restaurant ads for dinner with friends often involve alcoholic beverages. Everyone is smiling. Everyone is happy. They are all having a good time with no worries in the world. It’s the power of advertising. Let’s be honest, companies wouldn’t spend the fortunes they do on advertising if it wasn't effective.
Unfortunately, it doesn’t stop with ads. Films and television shows often portray drinking in a positive light, with a drinking scene roughly every 22 minutes on TV, every 14 minutes on MTV (1). Alcohol is usually associated with wealth, luxury and successful accomplishment of daring deeds.
Parents can combat this but it requires active parenting and involvement. Monitoring what children watch, co-viewing whenever possible, restricting certain problematic channels and limiting screen time to 2 hours a day is great over-all advice but for alcohol in particular encourage parents to find ways to avoid the alcohol ads. When possible, record shows and fast forward past the alcohol ads. If this isn’t possible, then mute the ads. Parents can use this commercial-free time to talk and have teachable moments. Discussing what children are seeing, talking to kids about the fact that ads do not portray real-life, telling them that there are consequences to drinking, and all consequences aren’t happy decreases the power of these ads. Parents can even take the next step and role-play with their children acting out what to do if they are in a situation with alcohol and friends.
As pediatricians, we need to encourage parents to talk to their children about alcohol and to start early. By telling a parent during a 10 or 11-year-old well child visit that this is a good time to start discussing alcohol, you can empower them to have these talks with their children. Remind them that once their children become teens, a parent’s words have less influence than those of their friends.
There are a number of sporting events coming up during this cold, winter season. As advertisements flood our children and teens, it is the perfect to time remind and empower parents to use these opportunities to discuss the reality of alcohol and to be aware of the powerful and lasting effects these ads can have.
Article Referenced in this Post:
American Academy of Pediatrics. Policy Statement. Children, Adolescents, Substance Abuse, and the Media. Pediatrics. 2010; 126 (4): 791-799
Anderson, Peter, et al. "Impact of alcohol advertising and media exposure on adolescent alcohol use: a systematic review of longitudinal studies." Alcohol and alcoholism 44.3 (2009): 229-243.