Youth Exposure to Violence

Trends in youth violence and victimization are on the decline

Posted Jun 05, 2014

National headlines reporting assault, bullying, sexual assault, and many other forms of violence leave us feeling that we are living in an ever more dangerous world.  Contrary to these headlines though, research shows that violence among children and teens is declining. [1]

Recent research from the University of New Hampshire’s Crimes Against Children Research Center suggest that trends in exposure to violence has significantly declined for both children and teens in the past decade. Researchers examined 50 different types of violence and crime that children and teens experience, and what they found was a significant decline from 2003 to 2011 in more than half of the experiences they looked at, including physical intimidation decreasing by, “more than one-third,” sexual victimization decreased by 25%, and child maltreatment decreased by 26%.

Declining trends are particularly surprising because historically, rates of victimization tend to increase during an economic recession.  Researchers note three possible reasons why declines in youth violence and victimization may be occurring:

  1. Public policies and programs aimed at reducing childhood maltreatment may actually be working.
  2. The use of psychiatric medication has increased for both children and adults.  Children with aggressive behavioral problems may be receiving more help for some of the challenges they are facing. Moreover, parents may be receiving more help allowing them better ability to monitor their child’s behavior, thus reducing exposure to violence.
  3. Technology may not be so bad after all. In fact, the more time children and teens spend online, the less time they are spending out in the world where they might be vulnerable to attack or engaging in delinquent behavior themselves. [2]

Despite all the doom and gloom in the news, there is hope that our children may actually have a less violent world than their parents.  Hopefully, as youth who have been exposed to less violence age into adulthood, declines in rates of violence and victimization among adults may follow. We as a society should feel good about the progress that has been made to keep young people safer in the past decade.  Our work is not done however: The United States is still at the top of the list for violence among developed countries.  [2] Continued funding of effective youth violence programming, including those that support families to provide safe spaces for children, is critical.

Contributions: Thank you to Jennifer Renzas and Nicole McCarthy for their integral contributions to this article.

For more information about this study, go to:

[1] Finkelhor, D., Shattuck, A., Tuner, H., Hamby, S. “Trends in Children’s Exposure to Violence, 2003 to 2011” JAMA Pediactrics. April 28, 2014

[2] Christensen, J. “It’s getting safer to be a child in the U.S.” CNN Health. May 1, 2014

About the Author

Michele Ybarra, MPH, Ph.D., is the President and Research Director of a non-profit research organization called the Center for Innovative Public Health Research (CiPHR).

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