Physical fighting by youth can lead to serious injury and even death. Injuries incurred in physical fighting during adolescence can result in significant losses in verbal intelligence. Risk factors that predict violence by youth include substance abuse, conflict and abuse at home, harsh or inattentive parenting, antisocial and delinquent peers, and neighborhoods where crime and drug use are prevalent.
Youth who are involved in physical fighting are also often engaged in other high-risk activities, such as bullying, cigarette smoking, and alcohol use.
Youth attending schools where fighting is common may be unable to maintain the focus necessary for academic success.
Adolescents who are victims of violence are also more likely to be victims or perpetrators of violence during adulthood. The likelihood of drug use, property offenses, and stress during adulthood also all increase in association with youth violence.
A high grade-point average, religiosity, and connectedness to family and peers have all been cited as protective factors against youth violence.
The share of students in grades 9 through12 who had been in at least one physical fight in the past year declined from 43 percent in 1991 to 33 percent in 2001. The proportion remained steady until 2011, between 32 and 36 percent. However, between 2011 and 2013 the proportion decreased markedly, from 33 to 25 percent. (Figure 1)
Male high school students are more likely than female students to be in a physical fight. In 2013, 30 percent of males reported physical fighting, compared with 19 percent of females. (Figure 1) This pattern is consistent across race, ethnicity, and grade level. (Appendix 1)
In 2013, among male high school students, whites were less likely black or Hispanics to report physically fighting (27, versus 38 and 34 percent, respectively). Among female high school students, blacks were the most likely to report physically fighting (32 percent), followed by Hispanic students (23 percent), and white students (15 percent). (Figure 2)
The prevalence of physical fighting generally decreases with age. Among females in 2013, ninth- and tenth-grade students were more likely to report being in a physical fight in the past year than eleventh- and twelfth-grade students: 23 and 22 percent, versus 17 and 14 percent, respectively. Among males in the same year, twelfth-grade students were less likely than their peers to report physically fighting: 24 percent, compared with 33 percent among ninth-graders, 31 percent among tenth-graders, and 32 percent among eleventh-graders. (Appendix 1)
2013 estimates of fighting among high school students (Grades 9-12) are available for select states and cities from the Youth Risk Behavior Survey (YRBS): Tables 14 and 16.
Estimates of fighting among 15-year-olds in 33 European
countries can be found in a summary of the results of the 2009/2010 Health
Behavior in School-aged Children (HBSC) study, Health and Policy for Children and Adolescents, no. 6: page 185.
Through its Healthy People 2020
initiative, the federal government has set a national goal to reduce physical
fighting in the previous 12 months, as reported by youth in grades 9 through 12,
from 31.5 percent in 2009 to 28.4 percent by 2020.
More information available here. (goal IVP 34)
See Child Trends’ LINKS database (“Lifecourse
Interventions to Nurture Kids Successfully”), for reviews of many rigorously
evaluated programs, including the following which have been shown to be
Physical fighting is defined as being in a physical fight one or more times in the year preceding this survey, according to students’ report.
Students from California, Oregon, Washington, and Minnesota were not included in the survey in any year. Additionally, students from Colorado, Iowa, Indiana, and Pennsylvania were not included in the 2013 survey.
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). (2014). 1991-2013 High School Youth Risk Behavior Survey Data. Accessed on 8/4/2014. Available at http://nccd.cdc.gov/youthonline/.
Youth Risk Behavior Survey
|1 Estimates do not include youth who dropped out of school and therefore may not reflect total national values. Students from California, Oregon, Washington, and Minnesota were not included in the survey in any year. Additionally, students from Colorado, Iowa, Indiana, and Pennsylvania were not included in the 2013 survey.2 One or more times during the 30 days preceding the survey.
3Race/ethnicity estimates from 1999 and later are not directly comparable to earlier years due to federal changes in race definitions. In surveys conducted in 1999 and later, respondents were allowed to select more than one race when selecting their racial category. Estimates presented only include respondents who selected one category when choosing their race.
Source: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). (2014). 1991-2013 High School Youth Risk Behavior Survey Data. Accessed on 8/4/2014. Available at http://nccd.cdc.gov/youthonline/.
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, (1992). Physical fighting among high school students—United States, 1990. MMWR, 41(06), 91-94.
J. A. & Beaver, K. M. (2013). Serious fighting-related injuries produce a
significant reduction in intelligence.
Journal of Adolescent Health, in press.
Smith-Khuri, E., Scheidt, P. C., Overpeck, M. D.,
Gabhainn, S. N., Pickett, W., and Harel, Y. (2004). A cross-national study of
violence-related behaviors in adolescents.Archives of Pediatric &
Adolescent Medicine, 158,539-544.
Kaufman, P., Chen, X., Choy, S.P., Peter, K., Ruddy,
S.A., Miller, A.K., Fleury, J.K., Chandler, K.A., Planty, M.G., and Rand, M.R.
(2001). Indicators of School Crime and Safety: 2001. U.S. Departments of
Education and Justice. NCES 2002-113/NCJ-190075. Washington, D.C.http://nces.ed.gov/pubs2002/crime2001/
Menard, S. (2002). Short and long term consequences of adolescent victimization. Youth Violence Research Bulletin. Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention. NCJ 191210. Available at: http://www.ncjrs.gov/html/ojjdp/yv_2002_2_1/contents.html
Menard, S. (2002). Op. cit.
Hispanics may be any race. Totals for whites and blacks in this report do not include Hispanics.
Child Trends Databank. (2014). Physical fighting by youth. Available at: http://www.childtrends.org/?indicators=physical-fighting-by-youth
Last updated: August 2014