Youth crime is falling in NSW as teenagers spend more time on social media

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  • Teenagers are spending more time on the internet and less time getting into trouble with police.
  • ANU research shows the number of youths coming into contact with the criminal justice system has halved over the last decade.
  • Researchers say increased use of home entertainment and social media is reducing opportunities for traditional forms of crime.

Crime committed by young people in New South Wales has dropped significantly in the last two decades due in part to more time spent at home on the internet with social media and streaming entertainment and fewer hours hanging out on the street.

The research from the Australian National University (ANU) looked at NSW police data of crime rates for people aged 10 to 21 who were born in 1984 compared to those born in 1994.

By age 21 the proportion of the population that had come into contact with the criminal justice system had halved, with big falls in car theft (down 59%), property theft (also down 59%) and drink-driving (49%).

Criminologist Jason Payne, lead researcher from the ANU Research School of Social Sciences, says there’s little doubt the decline was in part due to the changing habits of young people.

“Young people are spending less time in unsupervised environments where opportunistic offending may be more attractive, such as ‘hanging out’ on the streets,” Dr Payne says.

“An increased use of home entertainment and social media is also reducing opportunities for traditional forms of crime.”

Other statistics from the research:

  • Violent offending fell 32%.
  • Property offences dropped 56%.
  • Drug offending fell 22%.

However, Dr Payne says the trend may also open the door to newer forms of criminal activities.

“Those native to social media may explore antisocial and criminal behaviours online which at present attract far less scrutiny from parents and authorities,” he says.

Analysis of the data found the biggest decrease was seen among those who would normally only have one interaction with the police. The falls were less significant for chronic repeat offenders.

“The data shows a large reduction in the number of young people committing crime for the first time, although there remains a hard core of prolific offenders,” he says.

For both the 1984 and 1994 cohorts, 19 was the peak age for young offending.

The researchers also found increased security of personal and public property was another likely reason for the reduced youth crime rates.

The research was published in the Trends & issues in crime and criminal justice journal.

The latest numbers, from NSW Bureau of Crime Statistics and Research, for the whole population of NSW, show three of the 17 major offence categories trending downward: break and enter non-dwelling (down 10%), steal from motor vehicle (down 3.3%) and fraud (down 3.5%).

Violent offences have been falling since 2004.

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