Credible Sources

by Kieran Healy on March 9, 2006

This article in the Times is about the dangers to children, real and imagined, of social networking websites. The usual ping-pong back-and-forth about MySpace, etc. I liked the tag-line, though: “Parents fear Web predators. Some Internet experts, and some kids, call that fear overblown.” Other parental fears that “some kids” strenuously call overblown: the fear that the kid will spend some huge amount of money if given the chance, the fear that the kid will take the car and crash it at the first opportunity, the fear that the kid will have a big old party in your house while you’re away, etc, etc. Compare these reassurances to their near-perfect complement, “stern warnings from the AMA”: to 19-year-olds about to head off to Rocky Point for the week: “The American Medical Association is warning girls not to go wild during spring break after conducting a survey in which 83 percent of college women and graduates admit spring break involves heavier-than- usual drinking, and 74 percent saying the break results in increased sexual activity.” You don’t say! Both these messages will be put through the well-developed Bayesian filter located in the brains of their intended audience — parents in the first case, spring-breakers in the second — where the probability of the information being worthwhile is weighted by its source and then immediately disregarded.



Omri 03.10.06 at 1:03 am

Moralists are far less grating when they cite the Bible instead of citing statistics.


theogon 03.10.06 at 2:30 am

Only 83/74?


ajay 03.10.06 at 5:17 am

The point was made elsewhere that the AMA survey asked not about “heavy” but “heavier than usual” drinking and shagging. Presumably the rest of the sample are like that all the time (medical students…)


auderey 03.10.06 at 8:26 am

Nice how they’re warning *girls* not to drink and have sex, eh?


Barry 03.10.06 at 8:58 am

Well, Auderey, if the poor, innocent young men come within the grasp of those Evul Coeds, they can’t be held responsible for their actions, can they? Some innocent young All-American Boy walks into what he thought was a restaurant, sees what he thought was a bunch of poor women (they couldn’t even afford modest clothing!), and was offered what he was told was an innocent American drink – iced tea, like back in good ol’ Long Island.

Then he wakes up, days later, in a motel room, surrounded by these Evul Coeds – couldn’t be his fault, could it?


Western Dave 03.10.06 at 11:51 am

When guys getting date raped by girls is as big a problem as girls getting date raped by boys, some of the snark in the comments thus far might actually be funny.


Barbar 03.10.06 at 12:11 pm

More sexual activity among women ==> greater chance of rape.

And walk around in a short little miniskirt… well, what do you think was going to happen?

Uh huh.


Tim 03.10.06 at 12:15 pm

The assumption isn’t that girls are bad, boys are innocent, but (and this is just as harmful) that girls are innocent, boys are incorrigible.

But barry’s comment was still kinda funny.


blah 03.10.06 at 12:31 pm

Among men, research indicates that greater alcohol use is related to greater sexual aggression (12). Sixty-seven percent of the male sexual aggressors at one university, as well as about 50 percent of female victims, had been drinking at the time of the sexual assault or other incident of victimization (13). Binge drinkers appear to engage in more unplanned sexual activity and to abandon safe sex techniques more often than students who do not binge drink (3).


Barbar 03.10.06 at 1:07 pm

Sounds like good reasons to warn men about drinking — it brings out their inner predator and increases the odds that they’ll get an STD or impregnate someone. Have they been told?


blah 03.10.06 at 1:23 pm

In other news, the DOJ has warned men not to put roofies in women’s drinks. The men might be tempted to rape the unconscious women, thereby putting themselves at risk for criminal prosecution.


Amanda 03.10.06 at 1:36 pm

Other parental fears that “some kids” strenuously call overblown

I apologize if I’m misreading you, Kieran, but it sounds as though you think that parents are right to be seriously concerned about this issue and young people are self-interested and misguided when they say parents’ fears are overblown.

With all due respect, I very much disagree. Teaching your child to be wary online is a great idea. Believing that evil predators are very likely to successfully entrap your child, especially without a lot of progressively stupider decisions on the child’s part (revealing a last name, agreeing to meet in person) is not consistent with reported crime rates.

Emotionally speaking, this a frequency/intensity problem. True, if something happens, it’s awful. No one would wish it on any child. But the frequency with which something like this happens – especially without a heck of a lot of warning signs in advance – is extremely low.

Here’s an analogy: Would I be worried about letting a child fly alone on a commercial flight? Sure. Do I understand that that child has a much, MUCH greater chance of serious injury or death just by riding around in car, especially without good seatbelt habits? Yes. Moral: Teaching kids to be cautious = good; teaching them to accurately assess risk = equally good.


arthur 03.10.06 at 3:16 pm

Start with the proposition that all variable activities must happen more at one time than at another. I don’t understand why it concerns the AMA that drinking and sex happen more on vacation than during class times. Don’t most professors prefer students to concentrte tehir soobriety during the school year?

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