Reactive Protection? Fear, Victimization, and Fighting Among U.S. High School Students

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Youth violence in high schools is a pervasive and persistent problem in the United States. Students engage in physical fights, experience bullying and teen dating violence (TDV), are threatened with weapons, and miss school due to safety concerns. However, despite theoretical support, research has not sufficiently addressed the relationship between students’ fear and fighting at school. This secondary analysis used data from the 2013 Youth Risk Behavior Survey (n = 13,583) to examine the relationship between fear at school, victimization, and engagement in fighting at school among high school students. We created a 3-item composite fear variable, conducted logistic regression to examine likelihood of fighting, and multinomial regression to examine risk for multiple fights, and stratified all models by gender. Findings indicate that both male and female students who experienced fear were more likely to engage in fights at school than peers who did not experience fear, even when controlling for other factors. Likewise, the more fear incidents a student experienced, the more at risk they were for engaging in multiple fights. Findings on victimization indicate that the relationship with fighting is more straightforward for male students than for female students. For males, being bullied and experiencing multiple incidents of physical and sexual TDV were all associated with fighting at school. For females, however, only one type of victimization was associated with fighting at school: experiencing multiple incidents of physical TDV. Overall, findings suggest that fear may be more than merely a by-product of fighting, but rather—as the extant research supports—fear also can be generalized across situations and displayed through patterns of aggression. Findings support the need for interventions aimed at skill-building in areas of communication, emotion regulation, conflict resolution, and healthy relationships to help youth—particularly those in younger grades—negotiate interpersonal relationships without the use of violence.

Original Citation

Sattler, L.J., Thomas, K.A., & Cadet, T.L. (2016). Reactive Protection? Fear, Victimization, and Fighting Among U.S. High School Students. Journal of Interpersonal Violence. Published online October 3, 2016. https://doi.org/10.1177/0886260516672054