9 Ways to Protect Your Kids From Negative Messages in the Media

Joseph A. Califano, Jr., is the founder of The National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse at Columbia University (CASAColumbia). He served as US Secretary of Health, Education, and Welfare and has written several books. He lives in Westport, Connecticut. Visit CasaColumbia.org.

Starting at a very young age, children are exposed to messages on TV, in the movies, and online that make smoking, alcohol, and drugs look attractive. Joseph A. Califano, Jr., shares the best way to combat the effects of harmful messages in the media on your children in How To Raise a Drug-Free Kid.

Starting at a very young age, children are exposed to messages that make smoking, alcohol, and drugs look attractive. They see cartoon characters drinking and smoking, and TV stars popping pills. They listen to songs about smoking pot, and see alcohol and tobacco ads that make people who use these products seem chic and sexy. These messages are so cleverly done, and so common, that your child, and even you, may not notice how persistent they are. But these messages are crafted by sophisticated professionals who know how to reach your kids. The messages can lead your child to think that smoking cigarettes and drinking alcohol are cool.

Unfortunately, children are not always able to sort through the messages they hear, separate the wheat from the chaff and determine which ones are misleading. As a parent, you can teach your child how to distinguish the facts from fiction, the truth from the hype, and how not to be manipulated by tobacco and alcohol merchants.

How to Raise a Drug-Free Kid

How to Raise a Drug-Free Kid

by Joseph A. Califano

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Why Teens Are Impressionable
Media messages may exert more powerful influences upon adolescents, who are struggling to define who they are and who they hope to be. Adolescents want to be independent, but they also want to fit in with their peers; they develop their own ideas about what it takes to be cool. Unfortunately, your children are going to think that their ideas about being cool are totally original. They probably won’t realize just how much advertising and the entertainment media influence what they think about themselves.

Balancing Media Influences
What can you do to limit the influence of these messages?

  • Monitor and limit your child’s exposure to the media.
  • Look at movie ratings and make sure your children are watching age-appropriate movies (but don’t just rely on the rating system).
  • Know what your children are doing on the Internet.
  • Keep an eye on your child’s use of cell phone text messages.
  • Watch the TV shows that your kids watch. Even shows geared toward young children may contain misleading messages about smoking, drinking, and drug use.

Children whose parents monitor their media exposure are at lower risk of substance use.

You can control the amount and types of TV and other media that your children are exposed to by setting limits. On average, children and teenagers are exposed to eight and a half hours of media (watching TV, movies, and videos, listening to music, using a computer, playing video games) each day. That’s more time spent plugged in to electronic media than most people spend working!

You can provide your children with the right messages to replace the wrong ones. As susceptible as your children’s brains are to ideas from the world at large, you are still their most trusted source of information. Consistent messages from you can counteract all of the junk they may hear and see in the media, and the pictures some kids post on their Internet sites.

Talk to your child about media messages. Explain where particular messages come from, who is paying for the commercials on TV, and what they’re after. Teach your child that not everything they hear on TV or the radio is sensible, or true, and explain why. Caution them about how smoking, drinking, and drug use are portrayed on social networking (Facebook, MySpace, Twitter) and other Internet sites. You can help your young adolescent make healthy choices by teaching them to think critically about advertising and the media.

Start having these conversations before your children reach the teen years. Children are targeted by the media at a young age, and their heads are filling up with ideas right from the cradle. As soon as they are allowed to turn on a TV and watch it by themselves, be alert to opportunities to tell them about the dangers of drugs and alcohol.

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