Last updated: December 4, 2008 - 9:25am
[Commentary] Media have long been a convenient scapegoat for the woes of the world. In particular, fears about the influence media might have on our children have often prompted calls for "crackdowns" on speech and expression. Typically, these fears fade as one generation's media boogeyman becomes another's treasured art form. That's not to say media don't have an impact on some children. Clearly, media are among many factors that influence culture and behavior. But what about those other influences? Some studies summarized in the new Common Sense Media (CSM) report suggest a potential link between media exposure and certain social pathologies. But how do they account for the other variables that influence youth development, including broken homes, bad parents, socioeconomic status, troubled peer relations, poor schools and so on? And how is media exposure weighted relative to these other influences? Is a beer ad really as much of a negative influence as an alcoholic parent? That's why it's important to recall a fundamental tenet of all social sciences: Correlation does not necessarily equal causation. Human behavior is complicated and quite difficult to measure "scientifically." Just defining "media exposure" and "negative health outcomes" is tricky enough; identifying root causes is even more challenging.
(Adam Thierer is a senior fellow with the market-oriented Progress & Freedom Foundation.)
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