Has Youth Violence Actually Increased?

( [email protected] ) May 23, 2007 04:33 AM EDT

Despite youth violence having gone down over the past decade, media attention has led many to believe violent crimes have gotten worse. And one researcher believes the media doesn't have it all wrong.

Fuller's Center for Youth and Family Ministry partnered with Dr. Sofia Herrera, research coordinator for the Fuller Youth Initiative for Positive Youth Development and Violence Prevention, to find out if youth violence has actually increased. According to Herrera, the overall trend has not, but violence among particular groups and in more localized contexts has.

According to the Bureau of Justice Statistics, violent crimes on the whole (murder, rape and sexual assault, robbery, and assault) in the United States have declined since 1994, Herrera cited. "Likewise, the juvenile violent crime arrest rate has steadily declined and is now lower than it was before the 1980's," she said.

Considering the statistics, "if the media and news reports have led us to believe that violence is getting worse, this perspective is distorted," Herrera added.

However, "this does not mean ... that the media is completely wrong."

According to Herrera, youth violence has become more localized to certain neighborhoods and particularly in urban settings. In 2005, urban residents experienced more violence than suburban residents. Rural residents had the lowest rates of violence.

Furthermore, violence is being seen among more females and kids between 10 and 12 years of age.

A major influence for kids and violence is media exposure. Research has shown that media violence exposure does increase the likelihood that kids will have aggressive thoughts, actions, and feelings in the short-term, said Herrera.

The Parents Television Council recently found that violence on prime time broadcast television has increased 75 percent since 1998 and the television season that began in the fall of 2005 was one of the most violent ever recorded by the PTC. Other media influences include video games, movies and music lyrics.

"In addition, long-term studies suggest that media violence tends to desensitize kids to violence altogether, decreasing their normal negative response to violence (anger, fear, empathy, or increased physical arousal)," Herrera stated.

Despite some of the negative trends in violence, Herrera assured parents that events such as the shooting at Columbine High School or, more recently, Virginia Tech are "infrequent occurrences."

But the researcher suggests parents keep communication open with their kids so that they have opportunities to express their feelings and their fears.

"Most of us know that it's harder to stop something than it is to get something started," she said. "When it comes to violence prevention, we must help kids find ways to get started towards positive futures, increasing their chances of avoiding violence and other risky pathways."