That's one theory for why young people in Sweden between the age of 15 and 20 are committing far fewer crimes than they were in the 1990s, according to new statistics from the Swedish National Council for Crime Prevention (Brå).
“With youth crime, socializing with other young people plays a big role because a large proportion of that crime takes place in groups during free time, often under the influence of alcohol. So when a young person's socializing habits change to them socializing via social media and playing games at home, it will impact criminality,” Stockholm University criminology professor Felipe Estrada told The Local.
Brå's figures show that the number of young people in the 15-20 age bracket convicted of crimes in Sweden dropped by 40.9 percent between 1995 and 2015, per 100,000 citizens.
Youth assault reduced by around 50 percent in that time, and theft by a massive 70 percent. In 1995 there were 31,058 prosecutions of people in the 15-20 age bracket, while in 2015 there were 19,042.
“A further factor is of course the control that there is over kids today. That comes from both the parents obviously having better supervision of their kids when they're at home rather than outside, and also through them getting more involved in the lives of kids,” Estrada noted.
The impact of technology on the behaviour of young people in Sweden was previously shown in a March study which suggested social media use is making them stricter about alcohol consumption than before, as is a change in priorities that means more emphasis is being placed on keeping fit.
And a change in priorities could also have contributed to the changes in youth crime levels, Estrada thinks:
“Many kids state from as early as high school age that they feel their school work is very important because they see it as impacting their chances to study further. Life on social media can also have a controlling effect because young people want to show themselves on there to others in a favourable way.”
Similar patterns of reduced youth crime and drinking can be seen in other Nordic countries as well as places with similarly good data like the Netherlands, he noted.
But the criminology expert emphasized that the impact of technology on crime is not always positive, and more studies in the area are needed.
“We should remember that computers can also work as a tool for crime, and social media as an arena in which you can be exposed to crime. Directly mapping how a young person's screen time impacts youth crime isn't so easy, and more research is clearly needed,” he concluded.