TV skit promoting youth drinking sends wrong message

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NBC's "Saturday Night Live" recently broadcast a skit featuring children of all ages drinking alcohol, with the repeated words "let kids drink." While the skit might have been created in satire, this egregious message could be harmful to both youth and adults who were and continue to be exposed to the content, as it is repeatedly shared online across social media platforms.

Alcohol use and abuse is a major public health and safety concern in the U.S. Alcohol is the most widely used substance of abuse among America's youth. Research shows that children and teens are especially vulnerable to and at risk for alcohol use and addiction. Furthermore, studies have found that the promotion of alcohol use in the media can increase youth's positive expectancies about alcohol, leading to influencing their attitudes and behaviors.

The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA) and the World Health Organization (WHO) provide current information surrounding the health dangers of alcohol use - especially during the current pandemic. Health experts report that alcohol can reduce the ability of the immune system to fight off infections and potentially increase the risk of developing COVID-19.

Since this pandemic began, alcohol sales have surged, raising concerns about the physical, emotional and mental risks of substance abuse. During this time of uncertainty, anxiety, fear and isolation, people of all ages are at risk of alcohol misuse.

SNL's skit that features child alcohol use - with parent approval, no less - sends a dangerous message to both youth and adults that "alcohol is the answer." The satire indicates that one can use alcohol to cope with problems and stress. This information is misleading. Drowning your stress and problems in alcohol is counterproductive and harmful.

The fact is, drinking alcohol to cope with stress can lead to or worsen existing mental health problems and increase the risk for alcohol use disorder. The risks for young people are even greater. Alcohol use can interfere with and impair child and adolescent brain development, memory and learning, and contribute to a range of adverse consequences - including behavioral and mental health problems and drunk-driving fatalities, a leading (and preventable) cause of adolescent deaths.

Teen drinking and drug use are unhealthy and unsafe. This behavior is also illegal. Parents and other adults who provide these substances are not only endangering the health of young people, they are also breaking the law.

As a community prevention coalition, LowCountry Alliance for Healthy Youth (LCAHY) works to identify and implement strategies to prevent youth substance use and related risk behaviors. SNL's message is in stark contrast to LCAHY's vision of uniting the community to promote positive choices and healthy lifestyles for young people.

We urge all members of our community to support LCAHY's public health campaign, currently being aired on radio and TV, through newspapers and other publications, and through social media. We invite you to be part of the solution: Send clear messages to our children about the dangers of youth drinking, tobacco, and illicit drug use.

For more information and for healthy ways to cope with stress during the COVID-19 pandemic, visit lcahealthyyouth.com.

Loretta Novince, Ph.D. is a psychologist and consultant to LowCountry Alliance for Healthy Youth.

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