Advertising Influences on Teens

Whether they are watching television or flipping through a magazine, teens are bombarded with advertising everywhere they turn, and it's not without its consequences. Companies know teens are vulnerable and likely to be consuming media and, therefore, target young people with their advertising. While the effects of advertising can be detrimental to teenagers, it's possible to combat the negative impacts by being proactive about what your kids view and how they interact with it.

Tobacco and Alcohol

Tobacco and alcohol advertising is a particularly negative influence on teenagers, according to a 2006 issue of Pediatrics, and tobacco and alcohol companies tend to target young people who are susceptible to this advertising 1. The journal reports tobacco advertising is more influential in getting young people to take up the habit than family members and friends who smoke. According to the journal, one-third of all cases of adolescents who smoke can be linked to tobacco advertising 1. Adolescent drinking follows a similar trend; a large number of teenage drinkers are more likely to have had exposure to alcohol advertising.


Food advertising is another example of how big business can hurt young people. Foods that are advertised to young people are predominantly unhealthy and addictive. Fast food companies tend to use advertising that will appeal to young people, including incorporating television, film and sports icons into their advertising. A 2013 study from the University of Michigan even found teens experienced higher brain activity during food-related commercials than those that did not involve food items 2. The study found teens were much more likely to recall advertisements attempting to sell them delicious, high-fat foods than other kinds of advertisement.


According to Pediatrics, sex and eroticized models are used to sell a variety of items, while birth control and emergency contraceptives are less prevalent in the advertising teens see, as well as being less memorable 1. Early exposure to sexuality in advertising at an age when kids are particularly vulnerable has been linked to younger ages of sexual contact. Additionally, the models used in advertising skew teens' ideas of what their bodies should look like and raise their likelihood of developing body image problems and eating disorders.


Advertising can make young people believe there is a cure for every problem they face and lead them into dangerous and addictive habits, but parents need not feel totally helpless in the battle against the influences of advertising. Teaching children media literacy at school and in the home can help mitigate some of the effects of what children see in the media. The American Psychological Association recommends encouraging teens to spend time at home away from the abundant sources of advertising that surround them, as well as talking with them about how and why certain tempting ads are produced by corporations.

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