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Violence Among Teens is Dropping. But Why?

A new study shows a recent and significant decline in rates of violence among teens in the United States. The research, from Boston University’s School of Social Work, suggests that even though the world may feel as if it’s falling apart, the kids are alright, and maybe even getting better.

In an attempt to understand rates of violence among young people in the U.S., BU researchers looked at data collected by the National Survey on Drug Use and Health, which is built from annual interviews of 70,000 randomly selected participants nationwide. The research team focused on trends in violence for youth between the ages of 12- and 17-years-old engaging in behaviors including group fighting, one-on-one fighting, and harmful attacks between the years 2012 and 2014.

Led by professor Christopher Salas-Wright, the researchers found that youth violence dropped from 2003’s peak of 33 percent to a low of 23.7 percent in 2014. This represents a significant relative proportion decrease of 29 percent. That said, researchers did note that African-American and Hispanic youth were more susceptible to being impacted by youth violence. Still, the downward trend in youth violence held for those ethnicities as well.

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“This is consistent with other forms of youth risk behaviors,” Salas-Wright told Fatherly. “We’re seeing declines in adolescent alcohol use, and even declines in youth marijuana use over the last 15 years.” He notes that last point is particularly surprising considering the recent nationwide changes in state’s marijuana laws. That runs counter to studies that consistently show teens are largely portrayed by media as prone to engaging in risky or violent behaviors. “The data doesn’t pan out,” says Salas-Wright.

But what’s behind the decline? Salas-Wright is honestly flummoxed. “I don’t know what’s going on,” he says. “I expect it to be complex. There can’t be one thing driving it. But it is a consistent pattern of youth problem behaviors.”

That said, he notes that the research, published in the American Journal of Public Healthshould be important in helping people moderate their beliefs about the decline of Western Civilization. But while it may help some take a more positive view of the future Salas-Wright notes the pattern of disparities seen in latino and African American youth should cause reflection. “It’s an invitation to address some of the social factors behind that,” he says. “And to try and work towards prevention programs that impact the lives of the youth most at risk.”

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