The reductions persisted even through the economic
recession period from 2008 to 2011, indicating the hard times
experienced by many families did not translate to an increase in
"It should be encouragement to people who have been working on this
problem," said David Finkelhor, director of the Crimes against
Children Research Center at the University of New Hampshire in
"We're seeing an improving trend and an overall decline in the
exposure to violence, abuse and crime among young people," said
Finkelhor, who led the study.
The findings are based on three telephone surveys taken in 2003,
2008 and 2011 of children and teens between the ages of two and 17
years old. The surveys asked about whether children had been either
victims or perpetrators of assorted violent behaviors.
Children between 10 and 17 years old answered the survey questions
themselves, but parents of children under 10 years old answered on
the child's behalf.
Of 50 types of violence measured, 27 declined during the study
The decreases were particularly significant for assault, which
dropped by 33 percent from 2003 to 2011, bullying, which also fell
by about a third, and sexual violence, which fell 25 percent.
The results are bolstered by similar significant declines in
children reporting being the perpetrators of violence, or damaging
or taking things that don't belong to them, the researchers note in
the report published in JAMA Pediatrics.
Looking just at the recession years from 2008 to 2011, fewer
categories of violence saw reductions (just 11 out of 50), but there
were no significant increases in exposure to violence.
Finkelhor said the new findings jibe with statistics from other
organizations, such as police reports and the National Crime
"There are multiple data points that give us some confidence in this
direction that what we're seeing is not just a fluke," he said.
While study authors can't say why exposure to violence has
decreased, they suggest a few possibilities, including anti-violence
campaigns and fewer face-to-face interactions thanks to electronic
[to top of second column]
Another potential contributor, they note, is the more widespread
use of psychiatric medications by both youth and adults.
"Such medication has been specifically targeted at children with
aggressive behavior, which showed clear declines in this study,"
they write. Greater use by parents with depression or anxiety could
also result in less family conflict.
"I think the declines should push us to look at what in the
environment might have been changing to help explain why the
declines have been so broad and affected children in so many
different kinds of environments," Finkelhor said.
John Lutzker, who co-wrote an editorial accompanying the new study,
said it's important to remember that the U.S. still has rates of
violence higher than other developed countries. Also that children
younger than two years old — not included in this study — are most
at risk for death and maltreatment.
"All of this is not quite as rosy as it looks," Lutzker, director of
Georgia State University's Center for Healthy Development in Atlanta
told Reuters Health.
That should not detract from the new findings though. "These
declines are not spurious," he said. "They're real and
AMA Pediatrics, online April 28, 2014.
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