Fewer American children have been exposed to violent acts such as assault, bullying, sexual victimization and emotional abuse since 2003, a new study finds.
However, with the recent spate of school shootings, the many discussions of bullying and the fear of child sexual abuse and abduction, it may seem as if the problems are growing, the researchers noted.
"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.
Abductions, family homicides and bullying suicides, however, need to be framed in the context that overall safety for children has increased, he said. "We still have a long way to go, but we should not get discouraged," he suggested.
Finkelhor believes that these declines in violence are the result of prevention programs, new policing techniques, mental health treatment for aggressive behavior (specifically medication), and parenting education programs.
In addition, technology has helped in several possible ways, Finkelhor said. "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.
Moreover, technology reduces face-to-face encounters that can lead to violence, the researchers added.
Specifically, the research team found that since 2003, assaults declined by 33 percent, physical intimidation and emotional victimization dropped by a third, sexual victimization declined by 25 percent and emotional abuse fell by 26 percent. However, between 2003 and 2011, the amount of physical abuse suffered by children hasn't changed, the study found. The researchers noted that the rate of violent delinquency was cut almost in half as was the rate of destruction of property. The rate at which children witnessed violence also dropped, the authors said.
The report was published April 28 in the online edition of JAMA Pediatrics.