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How the media encourages teen drinking

The alcohol industry today brings millions to the national budget and therefore to great extent contributes to the welfare of the population. On the other hand, its negative impact on teenage mind and behavior raises national concern about the health and future economic stability of the young generation. Mass-media often serves as the link between underage alcohol consumers and the corresponding industry, as numerous studies suggest, and therefore acts as a catalyst of such harmful behavior.

The main components of media broadcast that cause alcohol use (or abuse) in teenagers are: alcohol advertisement; magazines, films, TV-shows and series and reportages about pop stars, which in specific ways encourage minors to approach to spirits as to a necessity, dictated by the epoch; a tool of achieving ‘coolness’ (or unique style) and establishing sincere friendly and romantic relationships.

According to the statistics, more than 87 per cent of currently drinking adults tried their first hard beverage before 21, in addition, gender gap between drinkers is gradually disappearing: nowadays, underage females drink practically as often and as much as males and begin to use spirits at the same age. Nowadays, as Chen et al (2005) suggest, “The alcohol industry has no federal restrictions on its advertising but is subject to voluntary codes dictating that 70 per cent of the audience for the advertisements be adults older than age 21” (Chen et al, 2005, p. 557).

Nevertheless, there is a positive correlation between the growth of alcohol advertising and alcohol misuse by minors: “Specifically, for each additional ad a young person saw above the monthly average for youth, he or she drank 1% more. For each additional dollar spent on alcohol advertising in a local market, young people drank 3% more” (Snyder et al, 2006, p. 20). In addition, teenagers become increasingly more vulnerable to addiction under media influence: contemporary statistics suggests that about 91 per cent of 12th-graders, who have already tried a hard drink, continue to consume alcohol (Chen et al, 2005).

The same study has found that the problem of alcohol misuse touches primarily those teenagers, who are not engaged into out-of-school activities like sports or hobby groups and therefore spend much time watching TV or reading youth magazines, where chronicles about celebrities’ ‘alcohol feats’ are presented. More importantly, adolescents tend to trust mass media much more than the adults from their environment (Grube, 1995), as their age is normally characterized by the minimization of parental influence.

Media images, related to alcohol consumption, affect even young adolescents and contribute to the formation of the related cognitive constructs: “A study of 12-year-olds found that children who were more aware of beer advertising held more favorable views on drinking and expressed an intention to drink more often as adults than did children who were less knowledgeable about the ads” (Garfield et al, 2003, p. 2425).

These ads, although designed for adults, nevertheless attract adolescents and act as opinion-shapers, especially those messages, which employ understandable visual and audio imagery and, including animals, good-looking and successful people, landscapes, popular rock-music or humorous stories that have ‘alcohol’ background and are accompanied by bright and funny images (Grube, 1995) that form the belief in the absence of health and safety risks in alcohol consumption.

In addition, such images often have romantic nature (ibid), i. e. involve such emotions as affection or attachment, allegedly ‘reinforced’ by a bocal of wine; and due to the lack of abstractive thinking capacities, minors frequently fail to develop a figurative interpretation of the messages and tend to build a literal understanding: for instance, a portion of alcohol allows having fun; spirits give pleasure and increase inventiveness, i. e.

bring new ideas; spirits enhance cross-gender communication and make a person more attractive in the eyes of the loved one (Garfield et al, 2003; Grube, 1995). Another important aspect of any advertisement is slogan or catchphrase (Stacy et al, 2004; Chen et al, 2005), easily memorable especially by young adolescents, who also tend to share this new ‘rhyme’ with their friends several times, so that the phrase remains in the child’s long-term memory and is likely to be recollected in the situation, when the minor is prone to alcohol consumption.

Another research suggests that the average underage alcohol user is gradually becoming younger: “among a group of 2,250 middle-school students, those who viewed more television programs while in the seventh grade were more likely in the eighth grade to drink beer, wine/liquor or to drink three or more drinks on at least one occasion during the month prior to the follow-up survey” (Stacy et al, 2004, p. 500).

In addition, under the media influence, teenagers wish to drink alcohol in general rather than consume certain types or brands of the product (beer, cocktails and so forth). As one can understand, the advertisement breeds in teenagers a predisposition to addiction, not merely to alcohol use, as there is a discrepancy between the wish to taste certain sorts of spirits and the desire to join the subculture of drinkers. Another important aspect of media coverage of alcohol use is the fact that such messages are normally intended for passive viewers (Snyder et al, 2006).

Teenagers, especially young adolescents, still have underdeveloped cognitive abilities, so that they usually perceive information as a whole, without structuring or categorizing the messages, which, in turn, causes no reflections upon or considerations about the ads or movies, where actively characters use spirits. Advertisement is therefore unquestionable ‘leader’ in the promotion of teenage drinking, but the other media-channels also contain positive references to alcohol misuse.

For instance, Chen et al (2005) suggest that most TV-programs, intended for 12-16-year-old target audience, contain visual references to alcohol or even characters, who consume spirits: this percentage varies from 18. 2 % and 6. 5%, and the average percentage of ‘alcohol’ images in such shows is 13% (Chen et al, 2005). “The National Association of Broadcasters (NAB) recognizes the influences media images can have on youth: “The impact of media images on radio and television audiences, particularly kids, cannot be overstated.

Clever jingles, flashy lights, fast talking, and quick pacing, all contribute to the message of commercials” (Snyder et al, 2006, p. 20). Youth magazine, although they contain no alcohol ads, inform youngsters that alcohol is a major component of celebrity partying ( Grube, 1995; Snyder et al, 2006); and with regard to imitative reactions adolescents often demonstrate, this lifestyle penetrates deeply into underage environment.

To sum up, the interrelation between the growth of alcohol advertising and the increase of teenage drinking as well as related studies about the minors’ perceptions of media images suggest that the positive messages, which refer to alcohol consumption and are conveyed through different media channels, encourage underage persons to taste and use hard drinks. Moreover, this rationale suggests that additional research in this area is desirable due to the rapid dynamics of teenage drinking in the United States.

Reference list

Chen, M. , Grube, J. , Bersamin, E. and Waiters, E. “Alcohol advertising: What Makes It Attractive to Youth? ”, Journal of Health Communication, 10, 2005: pp. 553-565. Garfield, C. , Chung, P. and Rathouz, P. “Alcohol Advertising in Magazines and Youth Readership”, the Journal of the American Medical Association, 289 (18), 2003: pp. 2424-2429. Grube, J. W. “Television alcohol portrayals, alcohol advertising and alcohol expectances among children and adolescents”, in Effects of the Mass Media on the Use and Abuse of Alcohol, eds.

S. E. Martin and P. Mail. Bethesda, MD: National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and alcoholism, 1995, pp. 105-121. Snyder, L. , Milici, F. , Slater, M. , Sun, H. and Strizhakove, Y. “Effects of Alcohol Advertising Exposure on Drinking Among Youth”, Archives of Pediatrics and Adolescent Medicine, 160, 2006: pp. 18-24. Stacy, A. , Zogg, J. and Unger, J. “Exposure to Televised Alcohol Ads and Subsequent Adolescent Alcohol Use”, American Journal of Health Behavior, 28 (6), 2004: 498-509.

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