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Media Awareness: A School Guide

As more youth are subjected to alcohol, tobacco, and other drug use than ever before, the question arises of what role media has in impacting youth in negative decision making. Unfortunately, statistics show that media has a direct, impact on these decisions and steps must be taken to help children recognize and understand they are targets for media campaigns. Though progress has been made in the past 30 years, there is still work to be done. Tobacco, alcohol, and drugs are not the only unhealthy substances targeted towards youth. There is a growing problem of obesity facing the United States while media continues targeting young children with commercials, images, and other advertisements that fails to present the truth behind slogans such as "Once you pop, the fun don't stop." The following provides resources for educators, health care professionals, and parents in the fight to promote awareness and prevent the negative influence of media advertising.

Exploiting the Next Generation

Many advertising companies specifically target youth in their campaigns because they want to establish brand loyalty during their younger years that can last for a lifetime. Studies show that consumers tend to purchase products they are familiar with and it can often be difficult to get consumers to change from one product to another. By creating familiarity and acceptance of particular products in a consumer's youth, there is a greater chance that the child or teen will continue to buy that product during their adult years. If a youth grows up eating Oreo cookies, Pringles potato chips, and believing that Coca-Cola is better than Pepsi, he or she will more than likely become an adult that continues purchasing those products.

For many years, advertisers used these principles to target children and teens with ads for cigarettes and alcohol, hoping that they would establish a brand loyalty before their competitors. Advertisers have engaged in tactics that have exploited children and teens by influencing them through marketing and media materials that promote substances that are unhealthy. One of the best ways to prevent exploitation of the next generation is to make them aware of the truth regarding harmful products as well as the tactics advertisers use to solidify brand loyalty early on.

What Products Are We Talking About?

Advertisers have used a number of methods to promote products that are unhealthy for children. From tobacco and alcohol to fast food restaurants and junk food, each has been targeted towards children. In the 1950s, Winston cigarettes were advertised as "tasting good the way a Winston should" and the tobacco company sponsored episodes of the cartoon show "The Flintstones." There were past commercials for the show that featured Fred Flintstone and Barney Rubble relaxing by smoking Winston cigarettes. For generations that grew up watching the cool, handsome "Marlboro Man" or saw advertising featuring the camel cartoon associated with Camel cigarettes, the effects of youth targeted by media advertising was clear.

There have been many advances in tobacco advertising; however, children are not immune to the tactics still used. Also of great concern is the way youth is targeted in campaigns for fast food restaurants and junk food. Nearly all fast food restaurants target children by providing them with toys and advertisements for G and PG rated movies. Junk food commercials circulate greatest on Saturday mornings, when children are known to watch television. Even video gaming has posed concerns regarding the media advertisements used and the need to provide certain ratings on various games in order to keep children safe from potential, emotional harm. Advertising is a controversial topic with many feeling more government regulation needs to be enforced in order to keep children and teens from being targeted.

What is Being Done About this Issue?

There has been a great deal of consumer advocacy and outrage against media advertising that targets youth in the areas of drugs, alcohol, and tobacco use over the past several decades. Laws and policies are continually advancing at the local, state, and even federal level. Though tobacco and alcohol ads went virtually unchecked during the 50s and 60s, things began to change by the 70s. Congress passed the Public Health Cigarette Smoking Act in April of 1970. This act essentially banned the airing of commercial advertisements for cigarettes on both radio and television. The very last cigarette commercial to air on television was for Virginia Slims. Commercials for smokeless tobacco remained on air until the mid-80s. The Family Smoking Prevention and Tobacco Control Act was passed under the Obama administration in June 2010. The Act gives the government greater control in regulating tobacco.

How Can We Avoid Media Brainwashing?

One of the most important steps that educators and parents can take is to help children become aware of media tactics and how they essentially brainwash people into making decisions. Exposing the truth behind the harmful effects of cigarettes and other tobacco products, as well as alcohol, fast and junk food, will help children and teens understand the true meaning of making healthy choices. Parents and educators may find that speaking with children about the impact media has is another valuable resource for creating awareness in children. By teaching children the truth about health and advertising, they will be better equipped in making their own choices.

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