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in the Media

Talk to children about alcohol in the media
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Do children take in media messages?

Yes. Even if children watch less TV than their peers, they are still likely to take in messages about alcohol. Studies show that children of all ages take in media messages about alcohol.

In Preschool...

Even preschool children learn things about alcohol from watching TV. In one study, children played with dolls getting ready for a grown-up party, and were told they were out of food and to go to the store to buy things for the party. Children who were allowed to watch PG-13 or R movies at home were five times more likely to choose alcohol items for their kid-sized grocery cart than kids who watched only G-rated movies at home. (1)

Q: Does talking about alcohol make children more interested in it?

Even if you're not talking to your kids about alcohol, the media is! Parents who stay quiet about alcohol let other sources, including media, have a stronger say in what their children learn about alcohol. The only way to make sure your child learns your values and your rules about alcohol is to start talking now and keep talking as your child gets older.

Research makes it very clear that if parents talk to their kids about alcohol and discourage underage drinking, their children are much less likely to become teens who drink.

Where is alcohol in the media?

Alcohol advertisements:

The average child sees 2,000 beer and wine commercials on TV each year–ads that make alcohol look cool, fun, and appealing. This is especially true for beer and flavored drinks like hard seltzers. Sweet fruity alcoholic drinks are especially appealing to teenagers because the sugar hides the taste of alcohol.

Alcohol ads appeal to children by showing young, attractive, and adventurous people, cute animals, or cartoon-like characters who are funny and cool. (4) Research shows that children remember these characters and their messages about alcohol. (5) One recent study showed that elementary school children could name almost all the alcohol brands shown to them. 

A note on the fantasy world of alcohol ads

Alcohol ads portray a fantasy world where nothing bad happens when you drink.  While you may know that’s unrealistic, your children may not. These ads don’t show the potential consequences of drinking: no looking stupid, no getting sick, and no car crashes from driving after drinking. Children who learn about alcohol from the media are not getting a balanced view.

How to discuss alcohol in media with your kids

Encourage your child to tell you right away if they see alcohol being used by characters or actors in TV programs or movies. Below are five good questions you can use. You can also follow any question you ask with a brief chat about what you think or expect when it comes to alcohol use.

Try these five questions:


What do you think about this character drinking alcohol at their age?


How did that character act differently after drinking alcohol?


What did this program/movie show you about the bad things that happen when someone drinks too much alcohol?


How did this character set a good example or a bad example of how to use alcohol?


What do you think about the way this character uses alcohol?

What you can do: 
See alcohol in the media? Use the opportunity!

When you or your child spots alcohol in the media, use the opportunity to speak up! Let your child know if you disagree with what’s being shown on the screen and say why. Explain what you think are responsible, acceptable ways for adults to use alcohol. If you stay silent, your child might be left thinking that you are not concerned about or even that you agree with what is being shown.

Parent/Child conversations about alcohol and media


Scenario: You and your child see an ad for beer.


Parent: “I feel like this advertisement makes it seem like football players drink beer all the time, but there’s no way they could stay in tip-top condition if they did. Why do you think they make it look like that in the commercial?”

Child: “Probably because they’re trying to sell us beer.”

Parent: “Yes! I bet that football player is making a ton off of this commercial.”


  1. Dalton, M. A., Bernhardt, A. M., Gibson, J. J., Sargent, J. D., Beach, M. L., Adachi-Mejia, A. M., Titus-Ernstoff, L. T., & Heatherton, T. F. (2005). Use of cigarettes and alcohol by preschoolers while role-playing as adults: "Honey, have some smokes". Archives of pediatrics & adolescent medicine, 159(9), 854–859.

  2. Collins, Rebecca L., Phyllis L. Ellickson, Daniel F. McCaffrey, and Katrin Hambarsoomian, Saturated in Beer. Santa Monica, CA: RAND Corporation, 2004.

  3. Stacy, A. W., Zogg, J. B., Unger, J. B., & Dent, C. W. (2004). Exposure to televised alcohol ads and subsequent adolescent alcohol use. American journal of health behavior, 28(6), 498–509.

  4. Atkin, C. K. (1990). Effects of televised alcohol messages on teenage drinking patterns. Journal of Adolescent Health Care. 11(1), 10-24.

  5. Grube, Joel W. (1993). Alcohol Portrayals and Alcohol Advertising on Television: Content and Effects on Children and Adolescents. Alcohol Health and Research World, 17(1), 61. 

  6. Roberts, D. F., Henriksen, L., Christianson, P. G. (1999). Substance Use in Popular Movies and Music. National Criminal Justice Reference Service (NCJRS) 

  7. Vogels, E. A., Gelles-Watnick, R., & Massarat, N. Teens, Social Media and Technology 2022. Pew Research Center. 10 August 2022.

  8. Rideout, V., Peebles, A., Mann, S., & Robb, M.B. (2022). Common Sense census: Media use by tweens and teens, 2021. San Francisco, CA: Common Sense.

  9. Moreno, M. A., & Whitehill, J. M. (2014). Influence of Social Media on Alcohol Use in Adolescents and Young Adults. Alcohol research : current reviews, 36(1), 91–100.

  10. Russell, A. M., Vest, N. A., & Litt, D. M. (2022). Social networking site use and alcohol use behaviors among adolescents: A latent profile analysis. Addictive behaviors, 129, 107261.

  11. Curtis, B. L., Lookatch, S. J., Ramo, D. E., McKay, J. R., Feinn, R. S., & Kranzler, H. R. (2018). Meta-Analysis of the Association of Alcohol-Related Social Media Use with Alcohol Consumption and Alcohol-Related Problems in Adolescents and Young Adults. Alcoholism, clinical and experimental research, 42(6), 978–986.

  12. Russell, A. M., Davis, R. E., Ortega, J. M., Colditz, J. B., Primack, B., & Barry, A. E. (2021). #Alcohol: Portrayals of Alcohol in Top Videos on TikTok. Journal of Studies on Alcohol and Drugs, 82:5 , 615-622.

  13. Nicholls J. (2012). Everyday, everywhere: alcohol marketing and social media--current trends. Alcohol and alcoholism (Oxford, Oxfordshire), 47(4), 486–493.

  14. Barry, A. E., Bates, A. M., Olusanya, O., Vinal, C. E., Martin, E., Peoples, J. E., Jackson, Z. A., Billinger, S. A., Yusuf, A., Cauley, D. A., & Montano, J. R. (2016). Alcohol Marketing on Twitter and Instagram: Evidence of Directly Advertising to Youth/Adolescents. Alcohol and alcoholism (Oxford, Oxfordshire), 51(4), 487–492.

  15. D'Amico, E. J., Martino, S. C., Collins, R. L., Shadel, W. G., Tolpadi, A., Kovalchik, S., & Becker, K. M. (2017). Factors associated with younger adolescents’ exposure to online alcohol advertising. Psychology of Addictive Behaviors, 31(2), 212–219.

  16. Albert, S. L., Rogers, E., Hall, Z., Zuardo, G. & Bragg, M. A. (2022). Comparing the Prevalence of Alcohol, Combustible and Electronic Cigarettes, Hookah, and Marijuana, in Music Videos across 6 Genres of Popular Music from 2014–2020, Substance Use & Misuse, 57:6, 967-974, DOI: 10.1080/10826084.2022.2058703

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