Social problem data & youth: Cause for celebration

“We should be celebrating young people’s good judgment and self-control — and extolling their parents and teachers,” writes David Finkelhor, director of University of New Hampshire’s Crimes Against Children Research Center, in a Washington Post article just before Thanksgiving. “They have brought delinquency, truancy, promiscuity, alcohol abuse and suicide down to levels unseen in many cases since the 1950s.”

Here’s evidence. The numbers across a broad range of social problem indicators in state and federal data are down, Dr. Finkelhor shows:

  • Violent crime: “Serious violent offenses by juveniles have dropped about 60% from 1994 to 2011. Juvenile arrests have receded faster in the past 10 years than adult arrests. Property crime by youth also has sunk to its lowest point in 30 years.”
  • Sex crimes: Three state and federal surveys show that the number of youth arrests for sex offenses is down (and sex crimes against teens are down by “more than half since the mid-1990s”).
  • School safety: “Violent victimization of teenagers at school … dropped 60% from 1992 to 2012,” the latest data available from the US Justice Department, and “school homicides, which rarely number more than a couple of dozen per year,” were lower in the last decade than in the ’90s.

  • Bullying: “Peer victimization, harassment and bullying — despite their ubiquity — have been abating in almost all of the surveys,” Finkelhor wrote in the post. He linked to this 2013 CCRC paper. [This past June the US Centers for Disease Control released data showing that the percentage of youth who’ve experienced bullying in the past 12 months is 19.6%. As for cyberbullying, it found it had gone down a little from 16.2% in 2011 to 14.8% in 2013.]
  • Suicide: The total number of suicides per 100,000 Americans aged 10-24 dropped from 9.24 to 7.21 from 1991 to 2009.
  • Sexuality: Teenage pregnancy in the US is “down to record lows…. “The percentage ninth-graders who say they have had sexual intercourse has declined from 54% in 1991 to 47% in 2013. The percentage of high schoolers who say they have had four or more sexual partners also has declined.”
  • Substance abuse: “Binge drinking by 12th-graders is lower than at any time since surveys were started in 1976. The number of teenagers who have been drunk in the past year is at a record low and the drop for eighth-graders is particularly remarkable. According to the Youth Risk Behavior Survey, half as many high school students said they had driven a car after drinking alcohol in 2011 compared with 1991.”

There’s even more data in Finkelhor’s article, which links to the studies themselves. So, as he points out, “every parenting manual says it is important to highlight progress to encourage improvement. What’s so wrong with a little praise and gratitude for a remarkable generation?” I think more and more people are asking this, but not enough yet, especially in countries where both connected technology and research about it are new. We still have a lot of work to do in replacing fear with facts.

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