Since the dawn of television, extensive research has been done to determine what effects, if any, television viewing has on children. Much of the debate centers around violent, sexual and immoral conduct within the shows aired on television. However, a less popular issue concerns what effect television advertisements have on young viewers. While studies and research have been done in most areas of advertising, one topic remains high on the list of study and debate alcohol. I believe that this is the most important area of research, as the viewing of such advertisements could have dangerous effects on a child s beliefs and, ultimately, health. Do alcohol advertisements on television affect children s views, attitudes, beliefs and habits concerning alcoholic consumption? If so, what is being done about the problem? What steps can adults take to counter any ill effects such viewing might have on children?
This topic became of great interest to me after I took some time to watch television, trying to see things from a child s point of view. Later, I watched more TV and imagined that I was a parent. What struck me the most was a Budweiser beer commercial, which used methods of advertising that would very much appeal to children. I continued channel-surf, looking now only for the advertisements. The alcohol advertisements bothered me the most. (Some examples are attached to the end of this paper with conclusions I have drawn.) I then decided to research more into the realm of televised alcohol advertising and its effects on children. I didn t expect to find very much, but surprisingly, I did.
In order to fully understand any such effects on children or what, if anything, needs to be done, the habits of child viewers must first be examined. On average, most children watch between three and four hours of television a day, or approximately 28 hours each week. In one year, most children spend 1,500 hours watching TV, compared to the 900 hours they spend in the classroom (Berk, 1994). It seems, through what the statistics tell us, that television gets more educating time than schoolteachers.
This is the reason psychologists have been studying the effects of television content so heavily. Concerns have mounted over the dominance of television in a child s life. The lingering questions remain over whether the tube does, indeed, educate, whether it is teaching the wrong values, and what kind of effects it has on attitudes and behavior.
(A nursery school teacher told me) her children were crudely bopping each other much more than previously, without provocation. When she remonstrated with them, they would protest, But that s what the Three Stooges do! Dr. Benjamin Spock related this story in a book he wrote in 1968, Baby and Child Care, to explain why he considers that watching television violence can lower a child s standards of behavior. As a leader in developmental issues concerning children, he is only one of the thousands that are pursing the issue of television s influence on the young population. Sharing his concern are parents, educators, psychologists, television regulation committees, and even the President of the United States. Scholars and the public alike are trying to determine whether this possible link should be combated by regulation on a higher level than parental control. In answer to these concerns, such technology as the V-chip, which controls the viewing of violence by regulating what the child may watch, has been developed. Also, television rating systems are now in effect to warn the parents of any inappropriate content. However, no matter what measures are taken to control what shows children may view, there is currently no way to determine what advertisements will air intermittently for the duration of the program.
It seems that advertising has not gotten the attention that television programs have due to the fact that they are short in length and aired at random. However, the statistics might put the power of advertisements into a new perspective. On average, a child sees more than 20,000 commercials in one year, equaling about 1 million TV commercials by the age of 21. These are viewed during the average hour of advertisements for every 5 hours of programming viewed (Lesser, 1980). For most adults, who understand the aims and goals of advertisers, these statistics might just seem annoying. We re interrupted that often from the programming we want to watch? However, most children, especially young children, have not yet learned what advertising is all about. They do not yet understand the motives behind advertising and that what looks fun and cool really might just be the opposite.
As early as the age of three, children are able to tell the difference between TV commercials and programs. However, most children under the age of six do not understand that the purpose of these commercials is to sell a product. In fact, it has been argued that until age nine, they don t understand that some advertisements appear to be for a good or fun product, when really they may be commercials for things that are not safe or healthy. In other words, they take what they watch at face value, not understanding underlying motives for making things seem different or better than they are (Berk, 1994). This is probably the main reason that children are vulnerable to the messages contained in public advertisements. Even after a child realizes that advertising may resort to any means to sell a product, he is often heavily influenced by fads and celebrity endorsements. While many commercials may be harmless, others can be detrimental to children s views and attitudes concerning the product being advertised and how it is portrayed (Berk, 1994). I believe the forerunner in this concern should be alcohol.
A great deal of experimentation and research has centered around the effects of alcohol advertisements on children and whether these advertisements influence children s opinions and use. J.W. Grube and L. Wallack performed such a study in 1994. Their objective was to investigate the relationships between television beer advertising and drinking knowledge.
The researchers collected data in the home, in the forms of self-administered questionnaires and structured interviews. Their sample consisted of 468 fifth- and sixth-grade schoolchildren from northern California. Their results, summarized, tell us, . . . awareness of television beer advertising was related to more favorable beliefs about drinking, to greater knowledge of beer brands and slogans, and to increased intentions to drink as an adult (Grube, 1994).
Their findings suggest that exposure to alcohol advertisements may predispose children to drinking alcohol. They suggested, because of their conclusions, that included in the effort to prevent drinking and drinking problems in the youth, attention should be given to countering the potential effects of advertising the product. This is extremely important, especially in the home. While the government and television regulation committees battle and advertisers fight to maintain their products lead in the market, parents and families need to realize that there is a problem and begin to take steps to combat it. More and more research is being done, and we cannot simply ignore the facts, especially because other research has indicated the same results.
L.I. Rosenkoetter, A.C. Huston and J.C. Wright researched the effect of television viewing on moral judgement in children. This is applicable because of the moral dilemma of underage drinking and consuming too much alcohol after drinking is legal. By interviewing 72 boys and girls at the kindergarten, second-grade, and fourth-grade levels with an array of moral reasoning measures, the trio hoped to find a relation between moral reasoning and television viewing. Each child s mother assisted by keeping a two-week television diary and providing extensive background information about such things as family television habits. They found that among kindergarteners, there was a moderate association between heavy television viewing and less advanced moral reasoning on each moral judgement measure. No relationship was noted on the second- and fourth-grade levels (Rosenkoetter, 1990). If moral judgement is less advanced, it is very possible that alcohol advertisements may have an even more adverse effect, especially on the kindergarten child who does not yet understand the target of advertising. They simply cannot discern that alcohol is dangerous.
It is clear that something needs to be done to protect children from any adverse effects of alcohol advertisements. They simply do not understand and may develop beliefs and attitudes that could be detrimental to them by the time they do understand alcohol and the advertising industry. On a higher level, there are people fighting for action. On November 3, 1997, the chairman of the Federal Communications Committee (FCC), William Kennard, called for an inquiry into the effects of televised alcohol advertisements. It was his first day on the job. President Clinton had originally requested the study, though the previous FCC was deadlocked on the issue (Mills, 1997). The request in 1997 began a whole new era of debate over television viewing issues.
Also in 1997, the network ABC was attacked for not addressing underage alcohol consumption or explaining the dangers of alcohol to children. The argument was that the network had an anti-drug campaign, but was silent on the issues of alcohol. Research indicates that alcohol is a drug, it is the most-used drug among American youth, it is the leading cause of death and disability for the young population and it causes more deaths than all illicit drugs combined. ABC was pushed to include alcohol in their March Against Drugs (Leiber, 1997). This is an important argument. Americans spend a great deal of time and money to try and prevent their children from using drugs such as marijuana and LSD, while paying far less attention to the deadliest drug of them all.
Even the President of the United States, Bill Clinton, has stepped forward to voice his concern. The debate spreads across the nation, from parents to the greatest powers in television and government. However, currently, alcohol advertisements still air daily and children still watch them, very possibly being influenced negatively by them. Until the powers that be reach some kind of conclusion on regulation of these advertisements, measures can still be taken at the parental level.
Parents can discuss what the ads are trying to sell and whether that product is good for you. Discussion should also center around how the ad is trying to sell the product, so that children might better distinguish a positive image as fictitious and not a picture of reality. Parents can combat the images on television by exemplifying responsible behavior, setting high expectations on the child s behavior and by not purchasing the products whose advertisements glamorize drug and alcohol use. Finally, the parent can get involved in the fight against advertising alcohol on television by writing to companies, sponsors, publications and networks that contribute to the objectionable advertising (National PTA).
The debate may never come to a conclusive end concerning the effects of television viewing on children, let alone the effects of advertising on the youth. However, alcohol is a drug, illegal for children and one that causes an incredible number of deaths each year. Studies, well beyond those presented in this paper, have shown that there may very well be a correlation with TV advertising and children s beliefs, attitudes and behaviors. Should we take the chance and continue to advertise alcohol on television? My opinion and plead relates to a slogan that has appeared on television Just Say No.