Are Kids Safer Because We Never Let Them Out Anymore?

Hi Readers!

After hearing me on NPR on Tuesday talking about the fact that the crime rate is lower now than  in the 1970s and ’80s when many of us parents were  playing outside, a couple of commenters to this blog said: That’s because we’re keeping our kids inside now!

They even suggested that I was editing out their comments.

No, actually I welcome them (I only edit out obscenities), because I know a lot of people are wondering if what they’re suggesting is true.

It’s not.

The fact is that ALL crime is down since the early ‘90s, not just crimes against children. So it’s not that children are safer because we’re keeping them inside, it’s that the United States is  safer, period. Safer indoors and outdoors, for adults and children (and for all I know, pets). There are several reasons for this that  I have outlined before and will now outline again. But first, here are the stats in all their non-alarmist glory:

All U.S. homicides: Down 40% 1992 -2005.

Juvenile homicide: Down 36% 1993 – 2005 (kids under age 14)

Juvenile homicide: Down 60% 1993 – 2005 (age 14 – 17)

Forcible rape: Down 28% 1992 – 2006

Sex Abuse Substantiations of Children, 1990 – 2005: Down 51%

Physical Abuse Substantiations of Children, 1990 – 2005: Down 46%

Juvenile Sex victimization trends, 1993 – 2003: Down 79%

These stats were collected and crunched by the Crimes Against Children Research Center, which gets its numbers from the U.S. Dept. of Justice. David Finkelhor, head of the center, says that clearly something is driving ALL crime down. Nationally, violent crime – not just against children — just went down another 2.5% according to FBI stats released last week.  Finkelhor credits these factors:

* More policing.

* More aggressive prosecution of wrongdoers.

*Less tolerance of abuse in the family. You know how nowadays, if your kid goes to school with a black eye, the nurse or social worker probes to find out what happened? That kind of intervention is bringing more abuse to the attention of the authorities, who investigate and, when necessary, prosecute. (That’s why crime IN the home has been going down even as we bring more children inside.)

*Cell phones. These are a crime fighting tool two ways: First, we can use them to report any crime, anywhere – and even take pictures. Second? Criminals know this.

*Psychiatric meds. Finkelhor calls this the “sleeper” reason crime is down. More and more troubled people are being prescribed medicine to quell their demons. When the criminally insane feel less insane, they are also less criminal. Also, as Finkelhor points out, some of the medicine has a libido-dampening effect, too.

Taken together, these factors have contributed to the stunning drop in crime. A drop my book likens to “a graph of Hummer sales, Miami condo prices or birthday cards to Bernie Madoff. An unbelievably dramatic jackknife down.”  

It’s not just kids who are safer, it’s everyone. Rather than keeping kids locked inside, we should feel less leery about sending them back out.

So, thank you to the folks who asked and thought the only way to keep kids safe is to keep them at home with the doors locked. I hope this makes you feel more comfortable allowing your children outside this summer. – Lenore