Youth Violence: Myths vs. Facts

At A Glance: Myths vs. Facts

The Surgeon General's report challenges a number of false notions and misinterpretations about youth violence and debunks myths about violence and violent youth.

Myth: The epidemic of violent behavior that marked the early 1990s is over, and young people - as well as the rest of society - are much safer today.
Fact: Although such key indicators of violence as arrest and victimization data clearly show significant reductions in violence since the peak of the epidemic in 1993, an equally important indicator warns against concluding that the problem is solved. Self-reports by youths reveal that involvement in some violent behaviors remains at 1993 levels.

Myth: Most future offenders can be identified in early childhood.
Fact: Exhibiting uncontrolled behavior or being diagnosed with a conduct disorder as a young child does not predetermine violence in adolescence. A majority of young people who become violent during their adolescent years were not highly aggressive or "out of control" in early childhood, and the majority of children with mental and behavioral disorders do not mature into violence.

Myth: Child abuse and neglect inevitably lead to violent behavior later in life.
Fact: Physical abuse and neglect are relatively weak predictors of violence. Most children who are abused or neglected will not become violent offenders during adolescence.

Myth: African American and Hispanic youths are more likely to become involved in violence than other racial or ethnic groups.
Fact: While there are racial and ethnic differences in homicide arrest rates, data from self-reports indicate that race and ethnicity have little bearing on the overall proportion of nonfatal violent behavior. There are also differences in the timing and continuity of violence over the life course, which account in part for the overrepresentation of these groups in U.S. jails and prisons.

Myth: A new, violent breed of young "super-predators" threatens the United States.
Fact: There is no evidence that young people involved in violence during the peak years of the early 1990s were more frequent or more vicious offenders than youths in earlier years. There is no scientific evidence to document the claim of increased seriousness or callousness.

Myth: Getting tough with juvenile offenders by trying them in adult criminal courts reduces the likelihood that they will commit more crimes.
Fact: Youths transferred to adult criminal court have significantly higher rates of re-offending and a greater likelihood of committing subsequent felonies than youths who remain in the juvenile justice system. They are also more likely to be victimized, physically and sexually.

Myth: Nothing works with respect to treating or preventing violent behavior.
Fact: A number of prevention and intervention programs that meet very high scientific standards of effectiveness have been identified.

Myth: In the 1990s, school violence affected mostly white students or students who attended suburban or rural schools.
Fact: African-American and Hispanic males attending large inner-city schools that serve very poor neighborhoods faced - and still face - the greatest risk of becoming victims or perpetrators of a violent act at school. This is true despite the recent series of multiple shootings in suburban, middle-class white schools.

Myth: Weapons-related injuries in schools have increased dramatically in the last five years.
Fact: Weapons-related injuries have not changed significantly in the past 20 years. Overall, schools - in comparison to other environments, including neighborhoods and homes - are relatively safe places for young people.

Myth: Most violent youths will end up being arrested for a violent crime.
Fact: Most youths involved in violent behavior will never be arrested for a violent crime