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Prevalence and Correlations of Fighting Behavior in a Nationally Representative Sample of Young Adolescents

Abstract 26 Poster Session III, Monday, 5/3 (poster 266)

Background: Fighting and violent behavior in adolescence is generally considered high risk for injuries and even death; yet, many in this society consider this behavior a "rite of passage" for male youth. A WHO coordinated multi-national study of Health Behavior in School Children (HBSC) provided the opportunity to examine the frequency of fighting and its relation to other circumstances and behaviors as a marker for high risk, troubled youth.

Objective: To determine the frequency and significance of physical fighting behavior in early adolescence and its relationship to other high risk behaviors and outcomes.

Methods: In 1996, the HBSC collected information by self report from a nationally representative sample of 10,088 young adolescents in grades 6,8 and 10 (ages 11 to 15 years) about the frequency of fighting, injuries, bullying and various risk behaviors (smoking, drug use, alcohol use, and others). Variables regarding family demographics, general health and symptoms, and circumstances of family, friends and school were also available. Fighting frequency during the prior year was tabulated to compare frequent fighters to occasional and non-fighters.

Results: For US adolescents, age 11-15, 61% reported no physical fights in the previous year, 26%, 1 to 3 fights; 8%, 4 to 11 fights and 5%, 12 or more fights. As expected, fighting activity is higher for boys than girls (0 fights, M= 48% Vs F=67%; 4+ fights, M=17% Vs F=8%) but the gender difference for occasional (1 to 3) fights was small (28% Vs 22%). Frequent fighters (4+) reported higher rates of injuries than for all students combined, (58% Vs 41%) and especially higher rates of multiple injuries (33% Vs 17%). The differences were largely from pedestrian, firearm and stabbing events but not from being struck on purpose or other causes. Compared to occasional and non-fighters, frequent fighters reported higher rates of daily smoking (27% Vs 18% and 8%), alcohol use at least monthly (37% Vs 20% and 10%), marijuana use at least weekly (18% Vs 6% and 3%) and other antisocial or problem behaviors. Frequency of fighting was not associated with parent education, number of siblings or depression.

Conclusion: Occasional, infrequent physical fighting is a common young adolescent behavior, even for girls; however, a subgroup of male youth experience 4 or more physical fights per year that serve as a marker for high risk and problem behaviors. The adage that, "boys will be boys", might be changed to, "boys and girls will be boys and girls - up to a point".

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(Spon by: Mark L. Batshaw)

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Scheidt, P., Overpeck, M., Ross, J. et al. Prevalence and Correlations of Fighting Behavior in a Nationally Representative Sample of Young Adolescents. Pediatr Res 45, 6 (1999).

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