We know when kids see something they like on TV they instantly turn into savvy consumers, even at a very young age. Whether it’s a sugary cereal with a favorite character on the box, a cool toy or video game, or some merch from Frozen, children pay attention to advertisements and, like most consumers, they know what they want (and they want it now!).
There are a lot of advertisements that directly target children — toys, food, and entertainment, for example. A lot of ads targeting adults may be over the heads of our youngest children (Viagra anyone?). But some ads blur the line (maybe out of neglect, maybe on purpose) and they have the potential to sway consumers of all ages. Justin Worland looks at ads for booze:
Alcohol advertising that reaches children and young adults helps lead them to drink for the first time—or, if they’re experienced underage drinkers, to drink more, according to a study in the journal JAMA Pediatrics.
“It’s very strong evidence that underage drinkers are not only exposed to the television advertising, but they also assimilate the messages,” says James D. Sargent, MD, study author and professor of pediatrics at Dartmouth’s Geisel School of Medicine. “That process moves them forward in their drinking behavior.”
Dr. Sargent wants the alcohol industry to behave more like the tobacco industry:
Based on the findings, Sargent says that alcohol manufacturers should self-regulate more to limit the number of children they reach. The tobacco industry, which has volunteered not to buy television ads or billboards, could serve as model for alcohol manufacturers, he says.
“Alcohol is responsible for deaths of people during adolescence and during young adulthood,” says Sargent. “It seems to me that the industry should be at least as restrictive as the tobacco industry.”
Something tells me that’s not going to happen. The burden will once again fall on parents (where, ultimately, it belongs) to be aware of what their children are watching on TV, hearing in their music, or reading in their books, and solicit their feelings about what they are being exposed to. Keeping our heads out of the sand as adults is important, but so is setting a good example. In fact, being a good, positive role model for our children to see and emulate is really the best we can do. For most kids, that should be good enough.
JAMA Pediatrics abstract here.