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Kids and Crime: Is the next generation really that bad?

Inside Your World: Are today's teens and young adults really that bad? (SBG){ }
Inside Your World: Are today's teens and young adults really that bad? (SBG)
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One of the consistent themes in society is older generations believe the newest generation is the worst behaved.

Some of this bad behavior is believed to include criminal activity.

But are today’s teens and young adults really that bad? Inside Your World Investigates took a close look to get answers.

In the last few years, there have been countless news stories sounding the alarm about rising crime rates. Property and violent crime are up. And teens and young adult perpetrators are in the thick of it.

A recent Gallup poll found 56% of Americans believe local crime has risen. This is a 50-year high. Nearly 80% believe it’s up nationally. That’s the highest opinion in three decades.

But despite some recent upticks, violent crime has generally been on the decline since the early 1990s. And if the overall trend is positive, then why does the public think it’s not?

So, why is it that people think crime is up? Well, they’re experiencing it through newspapers or television reporting," according to Josh Rovner, who is the youth justice expert at The Sentencing Project, a research and advocacy think tank that focuses on youth and adult crime policies.
Over the long term, we’re seeing way fewer kids arrested,” he added. “We see a lot less drinking, a lot less smoking, teen pregnancy is down. All of these numbers are moving in the right direction.”

According to FBI and Justice Department statistics, the violent crime rate today is about half of what it was 30 years ago. And the number of minors arrested for violent crimes has fallen nearly 80% since 1994. What’s unclear is if, and how, state and federal policies to arrest fewer minors have influenced the numbers.

Still, if the trends give us reason for optimism then why does the public think kids are causing more trouble today?

Accuracy in Media President Adam Guillette believes public opinion is heavily shaped by news reports and social media.

Human beings are creatures of emotion, not creatures of logic. And when they see clips on TV of gangs going into a department store and stealing massive amounts of things and cars getting smashed, that strikes a chord emotionally," he said.

However, today’s belief that criminal activity is reaching new highs is not new.

Rovner noted public perception of a rising crime rate has been a constant fear for years.

About 75% of Americans will say year after year the crime has gotten worse,” he said.

There have been recent spikes in certain criminal activity that many associate with teenagers and young adults, which may be adding to worries.

We're seeing a big increase in motor vehicle thefts, as well as a related phenomenon of thefts of catalytic converters," American Property Casualty Insurance Association’s Bob Passmore told Inside Your World.

According to the National Insurance Crime Bureau, catalytic converter thefts jumped more than 300% from 2019 to 2020. Auto thefts rose nearly 30% between 2017 and 2021. These crimes may contribute to a growing insecurity that anyone can become a victim.

Rovnerbelieves crimes like those shape public opinion.

I think seeing someone who looks like yourself as a victim makes it more likely to picture yourself as a victim," he said.

The influential role of the media was a recurrent theme throughout our investigation. Inside Your World found a recent New York Times article claiming, “Homicide is the leading cause of death among American children."

That’s a powerful claim that’s not even remotely true, according to the Centers for Disease Control, which tracks all of the nation’s deaths. It’s another false narrative that America’s youth are in the midst of a tremendous crime wave.

Guillette believes such misleading reporting could lead to policy overreaction, such as, “Elected officials who are going to enact tough-on-crime laws and three strikes laws and zero tolerance laws.”

Frightening images are powerful. Violent protests in cities like Minneapolis, Portland, Oregon, and Washington, D.C. have likely fueled public perception. So, too, have the recent wave of gangs conducting department store smash-and-grabs.

Organized retail crimes jumped more than 26% in 2021, according to the National Retail Federation. And despite heavy media coverage, the Justice Department reports carjackings are down nearly 80% since 1995.

As disturbing as the images are, these sensational crimes are not widespread. In general, the nation’s violent crime rate continues to improve in most communities.

“Statistics have limited value when people's own lives feel threatened,” said Rovner.

Rovner also said he believes social media adds to the worries, especially for people who seek-out stories about crime.

Guillette agreed.

Social media is an echo chamber," Guillette said.

As long as anyone can remember, teens sometimes engage in reckless and risky behavior that adults find worrisome. But everyone outgrows adolescence. And despite the gripping news stories and clickbait headlines, today’s overall juvenile crime rate gives the nation reason for optimism.

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In response to asking if society is moving the right direction, Rovner replied, “Oh, I sure hope so.”

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