The Role of the Media in Teen Addiction

shutterstock_56826280Every day we are bombarded by messages from mass media. There is no escaping it. Our teens spend an average of 8.6 hours each day using media with music, television, or the internet, making them particularly vulnerable to these messages. The average amount of time teens spend with non-electronic media, like books? A meager 1.2 hours/day. With a large chunk of their waking hours spent interacting with these various forms of media, what are the effects in terms of drug use? Are these types of media at least partly responsible for some kids needing teen drug treatment?

Pediatric resident Elizabeth Tucker raised these questions recently, citing studies concerning the content of what teens experience through media. For instance, 93 percent of the movies teens tend to watch portray alcohol use, while 22 percent refer to the use of drugs. Alcohol is the number one drug portrayed in television shows (77 percent of episodes), and in music videos alcohol is showed every 14 minutes. Tucker also spoke of what hooks adolescents. Take television shows, for example. Of the scenes in which drinking is portrayed, 33 percent are funny and show successful, influential, and/or attractive characters. Only 23 percent of these scenes show the negative consequences of drinking, which can include the need for teen rehab.

Tucker said that this exposure to drugs and alcohol is likely to bypass the logical thinking of the brain and hit at the emotional core of a teen. Fortunately, newer drug prevention programs teach teens media literacy and help them become active viewers, ones who are able to understand their emotional responses to media and think critically about what they are seeing. These steps are crucial to helping kids stay out of teen drug rehab.

Still, the question remains: is there truly a link between what kids see and hear in the media and their inclination to use drugs and alcohol? To answer this, Tucker also cited a study of ninth-graders from six high schools and they found that for every additional hour of television per day, there was a nine percent increase in the likelihood of a teen drinking alcohol within the next 18 months. A similar study was done in Germany with regards to teens and smoking. There, increased exposure to smoking in movies was found to increase the likelihood of a teen trying cigarettes.

It seems that, according to the research, there is a link between how drugs and alcohol are portrayed in media and how likely kids are to use them, especially given the amount of time kids spend with these media. The best prevention for this is to ensure kids are educated in how to understand messages they receive in advertisements, movies, television shows, and music. Parents who want to keep their kids out of rehab for teens must teach them media literacy and how to think critically about the messages they are receiving. Kids who succeed in this are more likely to avoid serious drug and alcohol use and a trip to teen rehabilitation.

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