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Advances in Nursing Science:
Article

Guns and Dolls: An Exploration of Violent Behavior in Girls

DiNapoli, Pamela P. RN, PhD

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Abstract

As demonstrated by several studies, there is an increase in levels of female violence. This study attempts to more fully understand the increasing phenomenon of violence in girls by exploring motivations to engage in violent behavior. The hypothesis that a girl's perceived sense of competence is influenced by social and environmental variables that motivate her to engage in violent behavior is tested. Research studies of female adolescent violence have focused on the study of risk factors predisposing the individual to violent behavior. This study uses a health behavior framework (C.L. Cox, Advances in Nursing Science, October 1982, 41--56) to explore the links between perceived sense of competence and both the risk and protective factors that motivate girls to act violently.

VIOLENCE was declared a public health emergency in 19851; since that time, violence prevention has been a national health promotion objective.2,3 In response to this emergency, numerous prevention and intervention programs have been endorsed, steadying the level of adolescent violence in males but not in females. The rates of adolescent female involvement in violent crime rose 345% by the close of the 20th century.4 The literature suggests that girls have different motivations for engaging in violence than do boys.5–7 Various aspects of the individual's internal and external environments influence a girl's perceived sense of competence to make choices, ultimately influencing health outcomes. The CDC began reporting health risk behaviors in the Youth Risk Behavior Surveillance Survey (YRBSS) in 1990. The survey includes overt measures contributing to violent behavior such as hitting, pushing, and fighting with weapons. Data from the 2001 survey indicates that 33.2% of juveniles had been in a physical fight (12.5% of those occurring on school property) and 23.9% of those students involved in fights were female.8 These numbers focus largely on overt violent acts that may in fact actually be overreported in boys, while focusing little on the acts of violence common in girls,9 resulting in a sparse body of nursing research investigating this behavior in girls.

The aim of the secondary data analysis reported here is to examine social context, environment, and individual perceptions as they contribute to a girl's motivation to act violently. Previous studies of adolescent violence have focused on the study of risk factors predisposing the youth to violent behavior. This study simultaneously explores protective factors and risk behaviors for girls engaged in violence within a theoretical framework to understand the increasing phenomenon of girl violence and identify variables amenable to health promotion efforts toward reducing this trend.

© 2003 Lippincott Williams & Wilkins, Inc.

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