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Americans Kids are Less Exposed to Violence Today, Study Reports

Update Date: Apr 29, 2014 09:21 AM EDT
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Exposure to violence can have a negative impact on young children and teenagers' mental health. In a new study, researchers examined how often American kids witness some act of violence, whether it is child abuse, domestic abuse or school shootings. The researchers found that children today are less exposed to violence than children were in 2003.

"It should be encouragement to people who have been working on this problem," said lead author David Finkelhor, director of the Crimes against Children Research Center at the University of New Hampshire in Durham, reported by Reuters. "We're seeing an improving trend and an overall decline in the exposure to violence, abuse and crime among young people."

In this study, Finkelhor and his team analyzed data from three national telephone surveys that were conducted in 2003, 2008 and 2011. The participants, who were between the ages of two and 17, answered questions regarding 50 different types of violence. Children under 10-years-old answered questions with the help of their parents.

The researchers found that out of the 50 violent acts mentioned in the study, exposure to 27 of them fell significantly over time. None of the violent acts measured increased during the study period. The team calculated that over the course of the study, assault fell by 33 percent, bullying fell by nearly 33 percent, emotional abuse fell by 26 percent and sexual violence fell by 25 percent. The team added that fewer children were perpetrators of violence. Despite these findings, the researchers reported that the incidence rate of children who experienced physical abuse did not change.

Finkelhor stated that these declines in violence are most likely the result of prevention programs, mental health treatments and assessments, parent education programs and newer policing methods. He added that better technology has made it easier for people to get out of potentially dangerous situations as well as avoid face-to-face confrontations.

"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," Finkelhor said according to Philly.

John Lutzker, director of the Center for Healthy Development at Georgia State University, commented "There are some very promising trends. But we are far from solving all our problems related to violence."

The study was published in JAMA Pediatrics.

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