Thursday, February 14, 2008

Violence and Youth

I get really annoyed when people get overly nostalgic and talk about how dreadfully brutal and violent my generation is in comparison to "simpler times." So I was delighted when Ken emailed me this article from a couple years ago debunking the connection between violent video games and the "rise" in youth violence. The writer looks at FBI statistics and finds out that Generation Y is the least violent generation in recorded American history.
That first graph is the overall violent crime rate, and we're talking about youth violence here. So I found the data sorted by age, and it turns out that through 2002, youth homicide actually dropped across the board, the only increase being among adults. If I may quote directly from the D.O.J. report, "Recently, the offending rates for 14-17 year-olds reached the lowest levels ever recorded."

The lowest levels ever recorded. In other words, the Playstation era has, in fact, produced the most non-violent kids ever.
I remember when I was in High School they had a big fuss over kids who were supposedly carrying guns to school, and I remember seeing the Principal searching lockers and the dogs coming by periodically. And then when Columbine happened and the High School went on lockdown. And banning backpacks, and then taking back the ban, and then banning them again. I graduated the year before they instituted school uniforms in my public school district. (Which was funny to me, because I remember my class protesting the idea, and I remember my sister getting suspended for protesting the dress code before I ever got there.)

I'd figured back when I was in school the hysteria would fade, but every once in a while something like this idiocy (from last fall) comes up and we hear about how Congress is discussing the fucking video games and someone's crying "Think of the children!"

And we have the most violent mass media we've ever had. And the most accessible font of information ever available to young people. And we're a country that is constantly--constantly on the edge, panicking at the stupidest shit. And... the violent crime rate is dropping. (Check the Preliminary 2007 Stats, see all those minuses under "Total"?) The age trend shown in that 2005 article is that each new group of kids was more peaceful than the last.

And each new group of kids has less freedom than the last. The kids in my old High School right now probably wouldn't dream of the day those doors were left unlocked during class hours, of being able to arrive late and sneak in after the bell, or of no one buzzing past the secretary. I don't think by now any of them would have gone to school when we wore normal clothing. And the dogs and the Principal searching the locker isn't a weird thing. Security guards aren't a weird thing. If the trend continues, security guards asking girls about their menstrual cycles won't be a weird thing.

I know someone will attribute this as cause and effect, except the tightening of security and the loss of civil rights is caused by a false perception that these children are more violent than the generation that's making the rules. In reality, they're less violent and therefore deserve more freedom.

Anyway, do me a favor and pass these stats around. The last couple generations have been getting a pretty bad rap.


  1. The Boomers and my fellow Xers are, for the most part, really shitty parents. Now granted, most parents in any generation suck... but these two have made a special point of it. They've conflated childhood with happiness, confused innocence with goodness, and have basically come to view parenting as a win/lose proposition that turns the best of intentions into fear and repression.

    So the real burden to come is on GenY's collective head... they're the ones who will have to end this whole villifying/worshipping youth thing.

  2. See, this proves that playing video games is actually a GOOD thing, because you will lack the proper muscle tone and desire to go out and commit violent crimes.

    Or something. I don't really know WHAT the think.

  3. I always believed video games served the purpose of taking your frustrated and angry impulses out on a non living image. I'm not sure if that one of the causes of the lower statistics or not, but I know it makes me feel better and therefore prevents me from doing something I might regret later.

  4. Sadly, childhood obesity rates have gone up sharply in recent decades - and clearly, it's all the fault of those damn videogames, because kids are too busy sitting parked on their asses pretending to beat each other up in games to go outside and beat each other up for real.

    Oh, irony!

    That's why I advocate the formation of Junior Fight Clubs in every school to get those whipper-snappers into shape the old-fashioned way!

  5. The real problem is we're overprogramming our children. You guys probably think he's a basket case (and he likely is) but Orson Scott Card had a good article on what we're doing to our kids over an, in between his looney rants.

  6. Generational studies is one of my favourite subjects to talk about, so I could easily go on for pages here. I myself subscribe to the generational ideas of Strauss and Howe (see for more on this), and they forecast that Generation Y, who they call the Millennial generation (born between 1982 and, oh, around '99 or so, although we won't know for sure for another decade or two) are on track to become their own version of what's often called the Greatest Generation (aka the G.I. generation, born between 1901 and 1924).

    Like the G.I.s, the Millennials are being raised in opposition to a 'disappointing' generation who came just before them (GenX for the Millennials, the Lost generation for the G.I.s). On the one hand they're being protected and nurtured much more carefully; on the other hand their behaviour is being policed much more carefully (although not so much as the generation after the Millennials will be!).

    It's true that the numbers suggest that the Millennials aren't particularly a cause for concern. It's also true that that doesn't matter, because standards have shifted. Nobody cares about a bunch of Xers killing each other, but if one Millennial goes off the straight and narrow, that's two too many.

    As for violence in video games and mass culture and stuff, I've been persuaded by Gerard Jones (in his book Killing Monsters) that it's more of a good thing than a bad thing.

  7. You also want to read Harold Schechter's Savage Pastimes for further support of the "violent entertainment = catharsis lessening violent behaviour" theory. Sadly, we live in a culture with a bloodthirsty 24-hour news cycle that will find a murder, riot or bombing somewhere on the planet and feed it right to your eyes and ears, fanning the flames of irrational fear.

  8. Back in my misguided youth, we heard the same damn things about Generation X. Yep, the youth of today are the Beginning of the End! Yep, yep, yep.

    When you get old and crotchety and lose daily contact with the youth, and all you see of them every day is the media portrayals of youth, you tend to forget that, well, that crap ain't real, and that the influence of pop culture is a fraction of the influence of friends, parents, and larger elements of society that tend to go unnoticed. As a young'un in the eighties, I knew the old folks' accusations of the kids being evil was crap, because I knew lots of kids and most of 'em were fine.

    I don't know anybody between the ages of seven and twenty-five anymore, and so I'll sometimes catch myself overestimating the effects of that infernal hippety-hop racket and instant messaging and such folderol and lament about Kids Today. I then have to dope-slap myself for being stupid. It's a very easy trap to fall into.

    And keep those crime statistics in your mental back pocket. It's a great refutation of the perpetual cry of "the world is dangerous and getting worse." No, it isn't. You may think it is, but that's not the same thing as being true.