Perceived Risk of Fighting and Actual Fighting Behavior among Middle School Students

By St. George, Diane Marie M.; Thomas, Stephen B. | Journal of School Health, May 1997 | Go to article overview

Perceived Risk of Fighting and Actual Fighting Behavior among Middle School Students


St. George, Diane Marie M., Thomas, Stephen B., Journal of School Health


Among children ages 5 to 14, homicide is the third leading cause of death, and among 15- to 24-year-olds, homicide ranks at number two.[1] In response to this escalating epidemic of youth violence, reduction in adolescent violence has been declared a national health objective for the year 2000.[2] Prevention of adolescent fighting is an important component of any initiative aimed at addressing the problem of morbidity and mortality resulting from violence.[3] The "Healthy People 2000" objective for the nation seeks to reduce by 20% the incidence of physical fighting among adolescents ages 14 through 17.[2] Physical fighting among adolescents is of concern not only as a significant source of injury itself, but also as a precursor to other potentially more lethal forms of violence such as homicide.[2,3]

Fighting prevalence is high among school-age youth. In national and local surveys, estimates of the proportion of students who reported fighting at least once within the past year ranged from 29 to 60% among various adolescent populations.[4-8]

When adolescents engage in fighting, they place themselves in physical danger. However, the developmental phase of adolescence is often characterized by a belief in invulnerability[9-11] which may mean that, in decisions to use fighting as a means to resolve interpersonal conflict, adolescents may not perceive the potential for physical harm as a meaningful concern or deterrent. Results from the National Adolescent Student Health Survey (NASHS) of eighth and tenth graders showed that students do not perceive fighting as very risky.[4] Only 14% of students surveyed felt they probably or definitely could be killed in a fight, only 32% felt they probably or definitely could be injured badly enough to require medical help, and only 29% believed they probably or definitely could miss school or work because of injuries incurred during a fight.

To plan effective violence prevention education in schools, it is important to understand determinants of youth fighting behavior. Researchers have begun to identify key factors in both the physical and psychosocial environment that may place youth at increased risk for violence, such as poverty and family disorganization.[12] However, it would be valuable to ascertain whether risk perception also was an important correlate of fighting behavior. Therefore, this study investigated the association between perceived risk of fighting and actual fighting behavior among young adolescents.

METHODS

Sample

This analysis derived from a larger study of middle school students conducted as part of a health education needs assessment performed by a county school district in northern Maryland. A stratified random sample of 1,000 students was selected from the Spring 1992 middle school population. Stratification was used to obtain four groups of equal size of Black males, Black females, White males, and White females from all three grades (sixth, seventh, and eighth). Responses were received from 563 students: 237 Black, 280 White, 40 other race, 6 unspecified. Informed consent for participation in the anonymous survey was obtained from both the students and their parents or guardians.

Survey Instrument

The study questionnaire assessed conflict resolution strategies (9 items), health behaviors (36 items), perceived health risks (46 items), and health education needs (29 items). Instrument development was informed by separate focus group interviews with students, teachers, and parents, and by a final review by school administrators. A pilot test was conducted in one of the county schools to refine the protocol and instructions. The survey instrument was found to be reliable. The entire instrument and the perceived risk section were both internally consistent (Cronbach's alpha = 0.86 and 0.89, respectively) and the test-retest correlation for the perceived risk subsection was 0.

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