Mean Girls' Fights Haven't Increased Teen Violence

Despite recent high-profile assaults, teen violence has decreased.

February 26, 2009, 5:06 PM

April 10, 2008 — -- Recent high-profile videos featuring real-life "mean girls" have created interest and a conversation about a possible increase in girl-on-girl aggression, but in reality violence among teens has decreased.

Physical violence among teens has dipped by 10 percent during the last 10 years, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

But media coverage and videos — like a recent incident where a gang beating of a 16-year-old girl was posted online — have contributed to chatter about girls' aggressiveness.

Teen violence experts said the Internet could be fueling the type of girl violence that has captured headlines because it's becoming the teen place to see and be seen.

"The best [way] to hurt the victims is to hurt the victims as wide as possible. There is no better place than the Web to show it. It's maximizing the bullying and the pain in the victims," said Dr. Young Shin Kim of Yale University School of Medicine's Child Study Center.

Cyberspace has become a virtual communication outlet for a slew of teenage girls. According to a Cox Communication Teen Internet Survey last year, girls are more likely to post online videos and personal information than boys.

Sometimes the postings aren't limited to contact information and descriptions of their favorite things. The Internet can be a prime forum for bullies, like in Baltimore where a student posted a video on Myspace showing a sophomore female hitting a teacher in the face in her own classroom. The cell phone video also shows classmates seemingly cheering on the bully.

One former bully who used to post her exploits online said she did so because she wanted bragging rights among her friends.

"You see a lot of people fighting. Sometimes it rubs off on you and you just fight because you want to fight," said Saccorra Hall, who used to regularly beat up other girls at her school, beginning in junior high. "They think putting it on YouTube will let people know, 'She beat her up.'"

The altercations aren't limited to high school campuses. It's reached elementary school playgrounds too.

Ten-year-old Rikki Triana of Erie, Pa., remains in a hospital with a broken hip following a playground assault by two girls, ages 10 and 11. Rikki had taken her younger sister to the playground when the girls began splashing her sibling with water. When she asked them to stop, they pulled her from the monkey bars and stomped on her head and legs.

Rikki had surgery Friday to have three pins inserted to her right hip bone in order to keep it together. Her accused assailants are in a juvenile facility and Rikki's mother is outraged.

"What do you say? You say, 'Come look at my baby in the hospital?' What do you say to them? What do they say to you? 'I'm sorry?' I don't think that works right now," said Rikki's mother Lisa Triana. "It shouldn't happen. Kids should be able to play and just be kids."

Educators and some parents have taken a hard line against the behavior and used swift punishment as a deterrent. In Florida, the teens were charge with felony battery and false imprisonment, but for some bullies fear of the law may not be enough.

"They feel they are at the top of the food chain and the hierarchy and they are reassuring themselves they are strong and dominant," Kim said.

Psychologists said the top priority is to communicate to kids, who often don't report bullying. They need to be reassured if they report bullying to adults something will really be done. The key is for parents and educators to work together to create bully-free zones, where bullies need to be held accountable, not just about punishment, but for making amends and creating empathy.