Violence Among U.S. School Children Significantly Lower within Last Decade

First Posted: Apr 29, 2014 11:17 AM EDT

Despite what sensationalized news we hear, a recent survey shows that fewer American children have been exposed to violent acts of crime since 2003.

"It is easy to conclude from media coverage that things are getting worse," said lead researcher David Finkelhor, director of the University of New Hampshire's Crimes Against Children Research Center, via Health Day. "We still have a long way to go, but we should not get discouraged," he adds, via the news organization.

Finkelhor said he believes that the decline in violence is most likely a result of prevention programs and better mental health treatment programs for aggressive behaviors. Along with this, he also believes that today's advancing technology has positively contributed to the overall decline.

"Cellphones allow people to summon help and escape from dangerous situations. Technology records crime, facilitates identification and prosecution, and so deters it. Young people do more of their risk taking online and at home, and it alleviates boredom, which is a big motivator of delinquency," he said.

Technology also reduces the rate of many violent encounters that might have otherwise physically taken place. (However, Cyberbullying continues to be a very real issue with the continued involvement of the Internet.)

Even during periods of economic recession--from 2008 to 2011--researchers found that hard times did not show an increase in violence.

"We're seeing an improving trend and an overall decline in the exposure to violence, abuse and crime among young people," said David Finkelhor, director of the Crimes against Children Research Center at the University of New Hampshire in Durham, via NBC News.

Study results are based on three telephone surveys taken in 2003, 2008 and 2011 on children and teens between the ages of two and 17. The surveys asked participants if they had been victims or perpetrators of assorted violent behaviors.

Findings revealed that assault dropped by 33 percent from 2003 to 2011 and bullying fell by about a third. Sexual assault, on the other hand, fell by about 25 percent.

While researchers can't entirely explain why exposure to violence has decreased, another contributor may be the widespread use of psychiatric medications among children and adults.

"Such medication has been specifically targeted at children with aggressive behavior, which showed clear declines in this study," researchers note, via NBC News.

More information regarding the findings can be seen via JAMA Pediatrics

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