Physical Fighting Among Teenagers

Physical fighting among teenagers is a serious problem in the United States.

A 1999 national survey of high school students found that in the past year:

  • More than 1 in 3 students had been in a physical fight;
  • About 1 in 7 had been in a physical fight on school property; and
  • About 1 in 9 of those who fought had been hurt badly enough to need medical treatment.1

Physical fights typically involve two or more teens who have chosen to use physical force to resolve a conflict or argument.

Because physical fights are so common, many people dismiss them as a normal part of growing up. While it is true that teens (and teenage boys in particular) have always engaged in fistfights, today, many teens carry deadly weapons. In 1999, more than 1 in 4 male high school students said they had carried a weapon in the past month,2 and about 1 in 11 reported carrying a gun.3 Fights that involve weapons, such as guns, knives, and clubs, are a major cause of serious injuries and death among teenagers.4

Fortunately, increasing numbers of teenagers are learning that while disagreements are inevitable, there are more effective ways to resolve conflicts and keep the peace.

Why do some teens fight?

When junior and senior high students around the nation were asked to identify the causes of the most recent fights they had witnessed, most frequent responses were:

  • Someone insulted someone else or treated them disrespectfully (54 percent).
  • There was an ongoing feud or disagreement (44 percent).
  • Someone was hit, pushed, shoved, or bumped (42 percent).
  • Someone spread rumors or said things about someone else (40 percent).
  • Someone could not control his or her anger (39 percent).
  • Other people were watching or encouraging the fight (34 percent).
  • Someone who likes to fight a lot was involved (26 percent).
  • Someone didn't want to look like a loser (21 percent).
  • There was an argument over a boyfriend or girlfriend (19 percent).
  • Someone wanted to keep a reputation or get a name (17 percent).5

Some teens are much more likely to get into fights than others.

  • Male teens are much more likely to fight than females. In a recent national survey, 44 percent of male high school students versus 27 percent of female students said they had been in a fight in the past year.6
  • Younger teens are much more likely to fight than older teens. In a recent national survey, over 40 percent of 9th graders said they had been in a fight in the past year, in contrast with only 30 percent of 12th graders.7
  • Teens who use alcohol and drugs such as marijuana, cocaine, and anabolic steroids are much more likely to fight.8 In addition, fight participants who are drunk or high are much more likely to use weapons and cause serious injuries. One study found that when the participants were drunk or high, over 60 percent were seriously injured (with broken bones, loss of consciousness, knife or gunshot wound), and over half used weapons. In contrast, when alcohol and drugs were not involved, only 18 percent of the fights involved serious injuries or weapon use.9
  • Teens who carry weapons are more likely to be involved in physical fights. One study found that students who had carried weapons were more than twice as likely to get in fights. Another found that the students who had fought the most at school were almost 10 times more likely to have carried a gun to school in the past month than those students who didn't fight.10, 11 Teens who carry weapons are also more likely to suffer serious injuries. When teens fight, those who carry handguns are three times more likely to require medical attention than those who do not carry weapons.12

Teens who fight often put themselves at risk in other ways.

Over half of the teens who fight also participate in behaviors that can put them or those around them at risk for harm. Such behaviors include using illegal drugs, binge drinking, carrying weapons, and having unsafe sex.13-15

One national survey found that of the youth who reported fighting in the past month:

  • 45 percent had unsafe sex in the last 3 months;
  • 41 percent had two or more sex partners in the last 3 months;
  • 39 percent had driven a car while drunk or high in the last month;
  • 26 percent had carried a gun in the last month;
  • 24 percent had attempted suicide during the past 12 months; and
  • 13 percent had used cocaine in the last month.16

Teens who are frequently involved in fights often don't know how to control their anger and prevent or avoid conflicts. They often believe that fighting is the only acceptable solution.

For example, students who fight at school are much less likely than other students to believe that it is effective to apologize or avoid or walk away from someone who wants to fight. They are also more likely to believe their families would want them to hit back if someone hit them first.17

Students who have trouble controlling their anger or who are predisposed toward fighting (agreeing with statements such as, "If I am challenged, I am going to fight," or "Avoiding fights is a sign of weakness") are at least 50 percent more likely to get in fights.18

What You Can Do

Helping Yourself...

Learn about ways to resolve arguments and fights peacefully, and encourage your friends to do the same. Many schools, churches, and after-school programs offer training in conflict resolution skills. In the meantime:

  • Figure out what methods work for you to control your anger (like leaving a tense situation temporarily or finding a calm person to talk to), and use them before losing control.
  • Before a fight, think about what the consequences of different actions will be: anger and violence versus walking away from a dispute or compromise.
  • Do not carry a gun or other weapons. Weapons escalate conflicts and increase the chances that you will be seriously harmed or that you will accidentally harm someone else. It is also illegal for a teen to carry a handgun, and it can lead to criminal charges and arrest.
  • Never fight with anyone using drugs or alcohol, or likely to have a weapon.
  • When in a conflict, try to think of solutions that will give both sides something, and try to understand your opponent's point of view. Show respect for your opponent's rights and position.
  • Decide on your options for handling the problem, such as talking the problem out calmly with the people involved, avoiding the problem by staying away from certain people, or diffusing the problem by resolving to take it less seriously. Try to use humor to cool hostility.
  • If you feel intensely angry, fearful, or anxious, talk about it with an adult you trust.19

If someone is threatening you and you feel that you are in serious danger, do not take matters into your own hands. Find an adult you can trust and discuss your fears, or contact school administrators or the police. Take precautions for your safety, such as avoiding being alone and staying with a group of friends if possible.

Helping Your Community...

Lead by example. Never physically or verbally harm, bully, tease, or intimidate others.

Be a "positive bystander." When you see a fight starting, don't watch or egg others on to fight. When a fight has bystanders cheering it on, it is generally more dangerous, with more serious injuries.20, 21 Whenever possible, try to promote a peaceful resolution.

Get involved. Become an active partner in violence prevention efforts in your school and community. Work with your school to create a process for students to safely report threats, intimidation, weapon possession, drug selling, gang activity, and vandalism. Become an advocate for programs such as mentoring, conflict resolution, peer assistance leadership, teen courts, or anger management.22

Work with others. Help develop and participate in activities to promote understanding and respecting differences.

Mentor other students. Volunteer to be a mentor for younger students and/or provide tutoring for your peers. Those who have positive role models often are steered away from a path of violence in their lives and learn to resolve problems peacefully.23

Helpful Links

Youth Risk Behavior Surveillance--United States, 1999
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
This document provides information about a national survey of high school students that asks whether teens engage in behaviors that put their health at risk, including physical fighting.

A Teenager's Guide to... Fitting in, Getting involved, Finding yourself
Family and Youth Services Bureau, Department of Health and Human Services
When times get tough, it's important to know there are people you can count on. The ideas in this booklet can help you learn to deal with tough times and enjoy the good times by finding the people and places that are right for you. You might find these ideas useful in your everyday life. Or read them to see if they might be helpful to a friend.

Youth in Action Bulletins
U.S. Department of Justice
These Bulletins, developed by the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention, provide guidance for teen leaders who are developing their own violence prevention efforts. Relevant titles include:

Stand Up and Start a Youth Crime Watch
This bulletin provides information for students on how to start a school crime watch.

Want to Resolve a Dispute? Try Mediation
This bulletin shows how you can start and carry out a youth mediation program in your school or community.

Arts and Performances for Prevention
This bulletin shows how you can use arts and performances to convey a nonviolence message and provides step-by-step instructions to help you get started and to keep you going.

The Peacemaker Corps
U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development
The Peacemaker Corps is a youth violence prevention and tolerance education program that brings housing, school, and community groups together under one roof to teach youth leaders about conflict resolution, mediation, youth violence prevention, and tolerance.

Conflict Resolution Education: A Guide to Implementing Programs in Schools, Youth-Serving Organizations, and Community and Juvenile Justice Settings
U.S. Department of Justice
This document provides information about building effective conflict resolution education programs. The guide is based on a shared vision that youth of all ages can learn to deal constructively with conflict and live in civil association with one another.

Indicators of School Crime and Safety, 2000
National Center for Education Statistics and the Bureau of Justice Statistics
This document presents statistics on violence and crime at school and on the way to and from school. It includes information about physical fighting and weapon carrying.

Community Dispute Resolution
U.S. Department of Justice
Community Dispute Resolution encourages the use of conflict resolution approaches to resolve disputes, involving schools, police, courts, and communities.

References

  1. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (June 9, 2000). Youth risk behavior surveillance—United States, 1999. Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report, 49(SS-5), 7.
  2. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (June 9, 2000). Youth risk behavior surveillance—United States, 1999. Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report, 49(SS-5), 6-7.
  3. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (June 9, 2000). Youth risk behavior surveillance—United States, 1999. Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report, 49(SS-5), 7.
  4. University of California at Los Angeles, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (1985). The Epidemiology of Homicide in the City of Los Angeles, 1970-79. Atlanta, Georgia: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
  5. Greene, J.P., Buka, S.L., Gortmaker, S.L., et al. (1997). Youth Violence: The Harvard-MetLife Survey of Junior and Senior High School Students.
  6. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (June 9, 2000). Youth risk behavior surveillance—United States, 1999. Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report, 49(SS-5), 7.
  7. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (June 9, 2000). Youth risk behavior surveillance—United States, 1999. Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report, 49(SS-5), 39.
  8. Dukarm, C.P., Byrd, R.S., Auinger, P., and Weitzman, M. (1996). Illicit substance use, gender, and the risk of violent behavior among adolescents. Archives of Pediatrics and Adolescent Medicine, 150(8), 797-801.
  9. Malek, M.K., Chang, B., and Davis, T.C. (1998). Self-reported characterization of seventh-grade students' fights. Journal of Adolescent Health, 23(2), 103-109.
  10. DuRant, R.H., Kahn, J., Beckford, P.H., and Woods, E.R. (1997). The association of weapon carrying and fighting on school property and other health risk and problem behaviors among high school students. Archives of Pediatrics and Adolescent Medicine, 151(4), 360-366.
  11. Lowry, R., Powell, K.E., Kann, L., Collins, J.L., and Kolbe, L.J. (1998). Weapon-carrying, physical fighting, and fight-related injury among U.S. adolescents. American Journal of Preventive Medicine, 14, 122-129.
  12. Lowry, R., Powell, K.E., Kann, L., Collins, J.L., and Kolbe, L.J. (1998). Weapon-carrying, physical fighting, and fight-related injury among U.S. adolescents. American Journal of Preventive Medicine, 14, 122-129.
  13. Sosin, D.M. (1995). Fighting as a marker for multiple problem behaviors in adolescents. Journal of Adolescent Health, 16, 209-215.
  14. Lindberg, D.L., Boggess, S., and Williams, S. (2000). Multiple Threats: The Co-Occurrence of Teen Health Risk Behaviors. The Urban Institute.
  15. Sosin, D.M., Koepsell, T.D., Rivara, F.P., and Mercy, J.A. (1995). Fighting as a marker for multiple problem behaviors in adolescents. Journal of Adolescent Health, 16(3), 209-15.
  16. Sosin, D.M., Koepsell, T.D., Rivara, F.P., and Mercy, J.A. (1995). Fighting as a marker for multiple problem behaviors in adolescents. Journal of Adolescent Health, 16(3), 209-15.
  17. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (1993). Violence-related attitudes and behaviors of high school students-New York City. Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Reports, 42(40), 773-777.
  18. Greene, J.P., Buka, S.L., Gortmaker, S.L., et al. (1997). Youth Violence: The Harvard-MetLife Survey of Junior and Senior High School Students.
  19. Schwartz, W. How To Help Your Child Avoid Violent Conflicts. ERIC Clearinghouse on Urban Education.
  20. Greene, J.P., Buka, S.L., Gortmaker, S.L., et al. (1997). Youth Violence: The Harvard-MetLife Survey of Junior and Senior High School Students.
  21. Malek, M.K., Chang, B., and Davis, T.C. (1998). Self-reported characterization of seventh-grade students' fights. Journal of Adolescent Health, 23(2), 103-109.
  22. U.S. Department of Education (1996). Creating Safe and Drug-Free Schools: An Action Guide. Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Education and U.S. Department of Justice, 11.
  23. U.S. Department of Education (1996). Creating Safe and Drug-Free Schools: An Action Guide. Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Education and U.S. Department of Justice, 11.

Source: http://www.safeyouth.org/scripts/teens/fighting.asp

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