family watching tvSuper Bowl Sunday is this weekend. I’ll admit I’m not a huge football fan, but I always enjoy watching the half time show and the commercials. The commercials are entertaining, but they can also be an opportunity for us to talk with our kids about what we’re seeing on TV. In fact, a recent study came out that re-enforces the need to have conversations about advertisements. It found that teens who watch alcohol ads and like them as young teens are more likely to abuse alcohol as older teens.Alcohol is a substance that many adults use responsibly. We’ll have a glass of wine with dinner or a beer while watching a sporting event. As adults, we know the dangerous of driving while intoxicated or becoming addicted to alcohol and having this affect other parts of our lives (like work or relationships). Teens may know these dangers too, but alcohol is a substance that is very available. It isn’t legal for teens to consume alcohol, yet most have tried it before they graduate from high school.

The Centers for Disease Control found that 71% of high school students had consumed at least one alcoholic beverage in their lives (that does not include a sip for religious ceremonies). Twenty percent had drank for the first time before age 13 and 39% had had at least one drink within the past month.

A recent article in the journal Pediatrics looked at 4,000 students in 7th grade and asked about alcohol use and alcohol ads on TV. They surveyed the teens through 10th grade. Though the number of teens participating decreased over time, they found some scary results. For both boys and girls, increasing exposure to alcohol ads over time and liking what they saw was associated with more alcohol use from 7th to 10th grade.  They also assessed alcohol related problems, like trouble with school, and found a significant association among boys and ads.

These results show that ads can affect behavior. So what can a parent do?

  1. limit screen time and exposure to mature subject matter. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends limiting screen time to 2 hours a day. This helps decrease exposure, but also encourages teens to do something active with their time.
  2. Use the ads as an opportunity to talk about drug use. Let teens know that what they see in these ads is not reality. Talk about the dangers of alcohol. Short term effects include difficulty in school, possible alcohol poisoning, increased risk taking and long term include health problems like liver and heart disease.
  3. Set limits and talk about consequences before you need them. See our posts on the ‘free phone call‘ and ‘ground rules.’ Talk with your teen about expectations of their behavior and let them help decide on consequences if they break the rules.
  4. Check out our previous post on how to talk to your teen about drugs and alcohol for tips.
  5. If you’re worried your teen has a problem with alcohol or other drugs, talk with your teen’s health care provider.