Are America's Youths Becoming Less Violent Over Time?
Editor Kenneth Land's book, The Well-Being of America's Children: Developing and Improving the Child and Youth Well-Being Index, presents details of the development of a national composite index to assess the well-being of America's children over time. The Index of Child and Youth Well-being (CWI) consists of several interrelated indices summarizing annual time series of numerous social indicators describing the well-being of children and youths in the United States. After development of the CWI, trends were charted from 1975 to 2008 in a variety of domains ranging from family economic well-being to emotional and spiritual well-being.
As reviewer David Elkind discusses, some findings with the CWI were as expected, such as indices of family economic well-being moving in accord with the economic conditions of the time. The safety/risky behaviors index and the spiritual/emotional measures also fluctuated over time. Interestingly, the study's findings also showed that, with the exception of a peak in 1993, both violent crime victimization and offender rates for children and youths have declined over the years 1975–2007.
How does this finding square with the series of recent tragedies involving young adult/youth perpetrators, such as the recent Newtown, Connecticut, shooting? Is there justification to be optimistic about youths becoming less violent in spite of recent events? How might research that draws upon historical social indicator data to understand trends over time inform the ongoing discourse about youth violence prevention? What are the limits to conclusions that could be drawn on the basis of this type of methodology?
By David Elkind
PsycCRITIQUES, 2013 Vol 58(5)