Underage drinking is more common than most parents would like to admit. The statistics are scary and tell us that at least 39 percent of high school students drink, while nearly a quarter binge drink. Eight percent have admitted to driving drunk and 24 percent have gotten in a car with a drunk driver. Underage drinking can lead to accidents, fatalities, academic problems, behavioral and emotional problems and lifelong consequences. According to research, advertising for alcoholic drinks plays a role in this problem. Ads do impact teens and influence how and what they drink.
Studies Show Ads Affect Teens
A number of studies have proven that alcohol advertising hits its mark with underage drinkers. The most recent such research effort comes from the Center on Alcohol Marketing and Youth (CAMY) at Johns Hopkins University. For the study, the authors surveyed over 1,000 young people between the ages of 13 and 20. All participants had consumed at least one alcoholic beverage in the month prior to the survey. The survey included questions about brands consumed in the last month and television shows watched.
The researchers looked at the advertising shown during 20 of the most popular television programs with the youth surveyed. They found a strong correlation between the brands of alcoholic drinks advertised during the shows and those consumed by the young people watching them. Any exposure to alcohol ads increased the number of drinks consumed by youth. Brands advertised were the more common choices among the underage drinkers.
The same research group at CAMY also recently investigated the connection between magazine advertising for alcohol and the drinking habits of teens. The study found that young people who drink a particular brand of alcohol experience heavy exposure to ads for that brand of choice. Together these two studies, along with numerous others, demonstrate that advertising does impact teens and determines what and how much they drink.
Changing Teen Drinking Habits
The researchers who are investigating the way in which advertising influences teenagers hope the results of the study will be read by alcohol companies and advertisers. They have left the ball in the court of those who create and place the ads that have such an important impact on young people. Not only do the advertisements influence the brands that teens drink, they influence drinking habits in general. The more teens see advertisements, whether in print or on television, the more likely they are to drink.
The consequences of underage drinking are serious. With the lives and futures of young people at stake, alcohol makers need to step up to the plate and make changes in how they advertise their products. Research has pointed out where teens are seeing the ads, during which television programs and in which magazines. Advertisers have a responsibility to limit this exposure.
Of course, ultimate responsibility for the choices teens make comes down to the young people themselves—and their parents and other adults in their lives. If you are the parent of a teen, you have the power to influence him or her more than any advertisement can. You may not be able to control everything he or she is exposed to, but you can teach your teen to make good choices. You can also pass on your values and model the kind of behaviors and decisions that you expect from him or her. As a parent, you can help your teen learn how to respect alcohol and use it responsibly as an adult. Advertisements are powerful, but so is your relationship with your child.