Violent Girls: Who Do You Believe?

Are American girls becoming more violent? I have heard murmuring, and went to explore, but I sure could not decide what I believe. One one hand, the increase in bullying, particularly cyberbullying, and "mean girl" syndrome would support it, but being "mean" is not the same thing as being violent, or is it?

James Garbarino, author of "See Jane Hit: Why Girls Are Growing More Violent and What We Can Do About It," (2006) seems to think that girls are getting more violent, the reports on the news about girls fighting, some of the videos posted on the Internet seem to suggest it, and Cindy Ness, a program director at the John Jay Center on Terrorism and Public Safety, reports that in her study of girls in Philadelphia, fighting is a way of life, but it isn't reported to the police.

According to FBI crime reports, juvenile arrests for crime are down, but girls represent a larger percentage of those arrests. Here at least is one place the gender gap might be closing, but not in a positive way. People who believe that girls are getting more violent cite the breakdown of the family and even women's liberation, as well as the increase of violence portrayed in the media and violent action heroes as possible culprits.

On the other hand, the National Youth Risk Behavior Survey done by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports a 10% decrease in fighting reported by high school girls between 1991 and 2003. The argument challenging the reliability of that data however is that girls are not necessarily fighting at school. In fact, they are more likely to be battling at home (with their mothers by the way), and in their neighborhoods.

So, I throw my hands up and accept that this is an area of teen health that does not seem to have an obvious answer or fix. It cannot hurt any of us however to keep paying attention to violence between teens, identifying aggression as unacceptable, and helping teens develop the skills required to settle conflicts without violence.

Photo credit: Jesse Gardner

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