According to a study by The National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse at Columbia University, children and teens who spend time on social networking sites are three times more likely to drink alcohol than those who don’t. This connection is not obvious on its face. However, the popularity of social media provides the alcohol industry a widening reach to market its products. And that reach extends to a large number of youth. Regardless of intentions, enticing promotion tactics capture the interest of children and teens, and this type of advertising, coupled with the ubiquity of social media, creates a formula that promotes alcohol use.
Alcohol brand fan pages on social media sites are public forums for all to see. It is common to find posts of photos displaying colorful mixed drinks or bottles of beer frosted on ice. Fans can post comments and pictures in response to the alcohol advertising. Children and teens need only to like a fan page to see these photos and comments in their newsfeed. But children and teens may also be exposed to advertising secondhand if one of their friends becomes a fan of a brand alcohol page and shares photos from that page.
The Center on Alcohol Marketing and Youth (CAMY) at Johns Hopkins University reports in a pamphlet that children misrepresent their ages to join social networking sites that have a minimum age requirement of 13. So the reality is children are gaining exposure to alcohol advertising at a very young age. CAMY further states “14 longitudinal scientific studies provide strong evidence that the amount of exposure to alcohol advertising influences whether young people start drinking or, if they already drink, how much they drink.”
Though the percentage of teen drinkers has lowered slightly in a recent ten year period, there is no question underage drinking remains a problem. Project Know, an organization devoted to raising awareness of substance abuse through informative maps and graphs on their website, reports “since 2003, the nationwide prevalence of students who drank alcohol at least once in the previous 30 days hasn’t dropped below 34%.” That’s still a sizeable number to consider.
Youth develop positive expectations of alcohol use when they are repeatedly exposed to the often glamorized and alluring alcohol advertisements and promotions. Correcting misperceptions that children and teens may have about alcohol, as well as educating them as to the negative consequences of underage drinking, can effectively counter expectations that alcohol is the key to maturity, escape, and social success. Well informed youth are better able to make responsible decisions, and youth who are ready to make responsible decisions are better equipped to resist media influences. We might not be able to control the images placed before them, but children and teens equipped with the tools they need to recognize it is wiser not to engage in underage drinking will scroll on by the frosty beer.