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Alcohol, Drugs, and Smoking

When is it OK for my kid to watch shows that have alcohol, drugs, and smoking in them?

The issue of smoking on TV has certainly caught the attention of Netflix execs who are facing a backlash against characters smoking on the hit show Stranger Things. In response, the streaming service has said it will try to curb smoking on its shows. That's a good move because seeing characters light up does influence kids. In fact, some experts believe consumption of any onscreen smoking is a risk. Numerous studies link drugs, alcohol, and smoking in the media (both in advertising and as part of a TV show) to underage substance use and abuse. Young kids are still learning about the world by watching and imitating others, and they are likely to mimic the behavior they see on TV and movies. Since little kids don't know what drugs, alcohol, and cigarettes are, they may be confused or frightened by their effects on a character. And the earlier kids are exposed to drugs, alcohol, and smoking, the more likely they are to accept them as part of regular life.

That doesn't stop movies, TV shows, games, music, and advertising from depicting this stuff, of course. Around age 10 kids can understand and discuss what they view -- plus they become more exposed to and possibly interested in media that portrays drinking, drug use, and smoking. Smoking in TV and movies tells viewers something about the character who's lighting up: They're rebellious. They're anxious. They're trying to be cool. If your tween relates to a character, they might be tempted to think smoking symbolizes their own inner turmoil. That said, parents' own habits also have a big influence on whether kids try smoking. Use these tips to help guide your media choices for your young kids:

  • Any drinking or drug use should have negative consequences.
  • Humor associated with being drunk or high isn't age-appropriate.
  • Any substance use should be in the background, conducted by responsible adults in social situations, and not done to excess.
  • Avoid watching a lot of shows with smoking, since cumulative exposure boosts kids' risk for becoming a smoker. Check Common Sense Media's reviews to see if a show contains smoking. 
  • If you do watch shows with smoking, don't skip any public service announcements, since studies show that PSAs on the risks of smoking can partially mitigate the effects of exposure.

Learn more about studies researching the impact on kids of alcohol in the media, smoking in the media, and drugs in the media.

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