When one thinks of violent behavior among teens, the first image that comes to mind may be a clump of boys fighting in a school hallway or park. Violent behavior among adolescent girls can be a problem as well.
A recent report from SAMHSA’s National Survey on Drug Use and Health shows that among girls age 12 to 17, 18.6% got into a serious fight at school or work in the past 12 months. 14.1% participated in a group-against-group fight and 5.7% attacked others with the intent to hurt them seriously.
More than one-quarter (26.7%) of girls in this age group engaged in one of these types of violent behavior in the past year, based on averages for 2006 through 2008.
Other key findings indicate that the percentage of girls engaging in these violent behaviors varied by family income, substance use, and school-related characteristics.
Family Income. Prevalence of these violent acts in the past year decreased as annual family income increased. Violent behaviors were reported by 36.5% of adolescent females who lived in families with annual incomes of less than $20,000; 30.5% of those in families with annual incomes of $20,000 to $49,999; 22.8% with annual incomes of $50,000 to $74,999; and 20.7% with annual incomes of $75,000 or more.
Substance Use. Adolescent females who engaged in any of these violent behaviors in the past year were more likely than those who did not to indicate past-month binge alcohol use (15.% vs. 6.9%), marijuana use (11.4% vs. 41.%) and use of illicit drugs other than marijuana (9.2% vs. 3.2%).
School Attendance. Adolescent females who were not currently enrolled in or attending school were more likely than those who were in school to engage in one of these violent behaviors in the past year (34.3% vs. 26.7%).
Grades. Among those who attended school in the past year, rates of violent behaviors increased as academic grades decreased. About one-sixth of girls who reported having an “A” average (16%) engaged in a past-year violent behavior compared with 26% of those with a “B” average, 38.5% of those with a “C” average, and 52.6% of those with a “D” average or lower.
Despite media attention on high profile accounts of females’ acts of violence, rates of those violent behaviors among adolescent females remained stable when comparing combined data from 2002 to 2004 with those for 2006 to 2008.
San Diego county has also linked adolescent violence to underage drinking but included several other elements, such as: social pressures, jealously, and pride as factors leading teenage girls to fight.
Fallbrook High School principal Adam Dawson believes, “It may be a combination of illicit drug use, family issues, or simply looking for a way to be connected. It can also be social pressure, this is why it is so important to have solid, healthy friends.”
The statistic of one in four girls aged 12 to 17 committing an act of violence at school or work pushes the percentage of girls involved in violent behavior to 26.7%, slightly higher than boys involved with violent behavior, which is 25.4%.
High-school aged girls have other reasons for becoming violent, besides binge drinking.
“Some girls are just dumb,” said Torrey, a 15-year-old high school student. “They think that they are guys and want to fight like them. I knew this one girl who thought she could fight like a boy, and ended up getting into a fight with them. She was beaten with a stick.”
Statistics from the San Diego Association of Governments (SANDAG) revealed 164 adolescents who were arrested in 2008 were interviewed; 25 percent of those were girls under 17 years of age. The SANDAG report also revealed that a higher percentage of girls were arrested for violent behavior compared to boys; 37 percent versus 31 percent.
“Some girls like to be known as fighters, and the just don’t care,” said Ellie, a high school freshman. “My cousin would punch and push me. She was proud of [being a fighter]. She isn’t even afraid of going to court or being sent to juvenile hall. All she says is that she’ll get out and beat [the person she was fighting with] up again. They do it to just be bullies.”
“Sometimes it’s because of a boy,” said Lauren, a high school sophomore. “It’s one of the dumbest reasons to get into a fight, but if a guy flirts with another girl, his girlfriend will start something. A lot of it is drama, like a girl thinks someone looks at her weird or talks bad about her. They mad-dog each other and try to start something. They start yelling at each other to watch their backs.”
Previously, boys and girls exhibited different rates of violence but in the last few years arrests for girls has increased higher than arrests for boys.
“These girls like doing it where people can see it, too,” said Lauren. “Last week at Fallbrook High School, a fight broke out in the bowl [the open part of the high school campus] at lunch, so everyone could see the fight.”
According to the high school girls, the fights between teenage girls are not simply a few pushes and slaps.
“Some girls punch, slap and pull hair,” said Tara, a junior who had been in a fight several years ago. “Personally, I punch, but that’s just me. I know of a girl who got a chunk of hair pulled out in a fight, and another girl who bit someone in a fight.”
According to Sheriff’s sergeant Amy Brown, the Fallbrook substation doesn’t get many calls of teenage girl violence. However, when they do occur, Sheriff’s deputies investigate the incident to find the individual at fault and charge them with misdemeanor battery. If there is significant bodily harm, the individual who began the fight is charged with felony battery.
Dawson believes that desensitization to violence places a major role.
“It’s the norm; they see it on TV, at home and online,” he said. “Every high school is battling this, and have strict policies based on the California educational code.”
“We often associate acts of teenage violence with boys; however, the problem is also pervasive among girls,” said Nick Macchione, director of San Diego County’s Health and Human Services Agency. “It’s extremely important to remind girls, and boys, that there are more constructive ways of handling stress and anger. Violence is never the answer.”