Protecting your teen from alcohol advertising

Protecting your teen from alcohol advertising

Today’s guest post is by Jane Martin. Jane is the Executive Manager of Alcohol and Obesity Policy at Cancer Council Victoria. She is also the mother of two teenagers.

If you are unhappy about your kids being exposed to alcohol advertising, you can join their call for no booze ads before 8.30 pm. No exceptions. Find out more at


I recall watching the cricket a few summers ago with my then 13 year old son when he said, ‘that’s really cool’. He was referring to a Johnnie Walker ad called the invisible man. How is a parent to counter that kind of sophisticated marketing that glamourises our drinking culture and appeals to kids as young as 13? And why do we allow the alcohol industry to target children and young people, when we know that they are vulnerable to the persuasive nature of alcohol advertising?

Ordinarily, alcohol advertising on commercial television is banned during children’s viewing hours and only airs between 8:30pm and 5:00am. But a loophole in these regulations means there’s no limit on the amount of alcohol advertising that can be shown during live sports broadcasts on weekends or public holidays, when thousands of young children are watching. To highlight the impact of this loophole, you only need to look at the numbers – in 2012, 245,000 children under 12 watched the NRL Rugby League Grand Final and 18 per cent of the final broadcast contained some form of alcohol promotion. The 2012 AFL grand final featured a similar amount of alcohol advertising.

But why the fuss about alcohol advertising during times when kids are watching? Well, research shows that childhood exposure to alcohol advertising is related to harmful drinking later in life; which is in itself linked to serious problems—and not just in rates of violence and anti-social behaviour, but also in rates of illness and disease. The number of young people under the age of 30 developing alcoholic liver disease has risen more than ten-fold in the last five years.  People with this disease in their twenties are/were likely to have begun heavy drinking as young as 15.

While the alcohol industry asserts that it doesn’t deliberately set out to target the youth market, the fact remains that the youth market is highly susceptible to advertising messages. And when these messages are an integral component of sporting events and personalities, which are well known to be popular with children and young people, it’s hard not to think that there’s something more behind the alignment of alcohol brands and sporting codes.

Here in Australia, the 2009 National Preventative Health Taskforce report included a recommendation to phase out alcohol promotions from times and placements that have high exposure to young people aged up to 25 years.  Yet three years later, this idea has yet to get a call up, however the recent alcohol related violence over the summer has led to discussion around what broad policy elements should be implemented to address this and has included alcohol promotion.

So what can you do to start kicking some goals when it comes to protecting your teen from the dangers of alcohol?

Parents play a crucial role in educating their children about alcohol and shaping their attitudes and behaviour. The Australian Drug Foundation offers some great tips on how to approach the issue of alcohol with your teen.

  • Get the facts: There are a lot of myths about alcohol and other drugs. Use evidence-based sources like to give your child the most accurate information.
  • Be clear in your beliefs: Based on the evidence, clarify your view of alcohol and other drugs. Explain your views on alcohol and use the facts to back them up.
  • Look for opportunities to start a conversation with your child: Having frank discussions with your teen about alcohol and preparing advice in advance so you know what you want to say to them ahead of time. It is never too early to start the conversation. Keep conversations about alcohol relaxed. Use relevant topics on the TV or radio and events as an opportunity to talk. Try to have the conversation in a quiet place or in a comfortable environment e.g. the family dinner table.
  • Ask questions: Find out your child’s views about alcohol and other drugs. Talk about what they would do in different situations.

Some parents believe that purchasing alcohol for their children, or allowing them to drink with the family, before they are eighteen can help to establish responsible drinking patterns. I thought that too.  However, working in this area changed my view about this, with the evidence showing that this does not necessarily result in teens developing positive drinking patterns. More importantly, alcohol has a detrimental effect on a young person’s brain over a much longer period than previously thought, with our peak scientific body recommending that young people do not drink at all before they turn 18.

Be aware that teenagers are likely to think that drinking will help them fit in. But it is important to know that it is possible to be part of the group without drinking and using alcohol as a social crutch. The non-drinking tag should not just belong to the designated driver, but teens should feel confident to go out and have fun without booze.

Schools have also become more engaged particularly when it comes to events associated with the school. Many secondary schools have guidelines around alcohol and parties before and after formals and other events.

Of course, society’s drinking culture will not be changed by schools and families alone.  The types of marketing used to promote alcohol, particularly to young people who are just starting to shape their drinking preferences, have a big impact. Much of this is through sports sponsorship, using cricket and football role models that have particular influence with boys and young men.

However, we want to support the role of parents to ensure that their children are sheltered from marketing of alcohol and junk food, including through televised sport. That’s why we have launched our adShame campaign and why we need your help to share it.

Watch our video, share it with your friends and help us close the loophole in the legislation.

You can find out more by:

Have you discussed alcohol with your teenager/s?