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Tufts E-News --A Growing Problem: Violent Girls

Tufts E-News --A Growing Problem: Violent GirlsGirls are becoming just as violent as boys in schoolyards and streets across the country and one Tufts expert says it’s time for parents, communities and the media to respond and teach girls to be “nonvictim and nonviolent.”

Boston [12.02.05] The neighborhood bully isn’t necessarily a boy anymore. Statistics show that, in recent years, girls have become more aggressive and prone to violent behavior. According to one Tufts expert, society and American culture are to blame.

“Today, American girls are showing their mean streaks. They are fighting, and not just in self-defense,” Tufts School of Medicine professor of pediatrics Howard Spivak M.D. wrote in a recent Boston Globe opinion piece he co-authored. “We believe that socialization and cultural changes explain the changes in girls' behavior.”

SugarandSpiceThe co-author of Murder Is No Accident: Sugar and Spice and No Longer Nice, blames the media – movies, TV, magazines and music – for promoting violence to girls and teaching them that “fighting is appropriate and acceptable when dealing with hurt, pain, anger and conflict.”

Spivak said that the idea that violence is OK has been pitched to boys for years. But now girls are getting the message, too.

“Violence and physical aggression are being marketed to our daughters in the same way … [they have] been to our sons,” Spivak wrote in the Globe. “We equate power with physical aggression and fighting for girls as for boys and the girls are catching on.”

While gender inequality still exists in the U.S., sometimes making young women more vulnerable to violent victimization “in their families, intimate relationships, and the larger community,” violence is not the answer, according to Spivak.

“Girls must learn how to be nonvictim and nonviolent,” he wrote.

Asgirls are leveling the playing field with boys in many areas, including academics and sports, Spivak pointed out, the tendency towards violence is no exception.

“Traditionally, high-risk girls acted out with self-destructive behaviors (using alcohol or drugs, running away, suicide attempts, prostitution and cutting), not violence against others,” Spivak wrote.

But Spivak has been researching this issue for decades and the statistics and stories from schoolyards across America indicate that this is no longer the case, he said.

“Turning to the numbers, our fears were confirmed. Not only were school personnel anecdotally reporting that girls were fighting more, but girls were also getting arrested for violent crimes at all-time increasingly higher rates as well,” Spivak wrote in the Globe.

He pointed out that, despite the hard data, some people choose to turn a blind eye to what is becoming a serious problem. This won’t help to solve it, Spivak said.

“While it may be too unsettling to acknowledge the increasing violence among girls, we must admit the problem in order to dedicate ourselves to preventing it,” he wrote.

Prevention efforts need to take place on multiple levels, Spivak added.

“Without a society, community and school that value negotiation, compromise, forgiveness and other conflict-resolution skills, it is even harder for parents to raise nonviolent children,” he wrote in the Globe. “Concentric circles of influence that affect their values and behaviors surround children. These layers [of] family, peers, school, community [and] media … need to line up to promote values that deemphasize or discourage risky and dangerous behaviors.”

In Boston, city officials are preparing to beef up their prevention efforts in the wake of a rise in youth violence, Spivak pointed out. He hopes they take his plea to heart.

“Don’t forget the girls!” he wrote.


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