Peer pressure, poor parenting are causes of teen violence among girls, experts say
By Judy Masterson email@example.com June 4, 2013 7:48PM
In a 2011 survey of ninth- through 12th-graders, the Centers for Disease Control found that 16 percent of male students and 8 percent of female students reported involvement in a physical fight on school property in the previous 12 months. | Sun-Times M
An expert’s thoughts
Citing the “cumulative, desensitizing effects of media-glamorized violence,” combined with a lack of supervision, socialization, role models and economic distress, the U.S. Department of Justice warned in 1996 of a future wave of youth violence that might only be stemmed by “a large-scale effort to educate and support young children and preteens.”
Ed Bates, a local expert in student support services, said Lake County schools could do more to promote social and emotional learning − and to help parents.
“Families aren’t contacted until students are already failing or truant and we’re involving parents too late,” Bates said. “If it creates a learning deficit, it’s our responsibility.”
Bates said youth violence is a threat to entire communities.
“It’s a safety issue,” he said. “Poor decision-making teens are a threat. They’re often unemployable, they don’t pay taxes, they can’t participate in the economy and they die sooner.”
Updated: August 4, 2013 1:15AM
The end of school for Donnae Stamps started in late 2011 when she stuffed canned goods into a sock, swung it at another girl’s head and hit her target.
The fight began after taunts from a group of girls who followed Donnae, then 13, and a friend home from Central Jr. High in Zion. But the group backed off, according to Donnae, after she and her pal emerged with the loaded socks.
“They didn’t want to fight with us then,” Donnae, 15, said in an interview.
Donnae has been in three serious fights including the last, at Zion-Benton Township High School in January, when she and eight other students were expelled over a rumble in a hallway. That fight was sparked by alleged threats on Facebook.
A girl jumped on one of Donnae’s girlfriends and two sets of defenders, including Donnae, joined in. Student bystanders gathered round to watch as hair pulling, kicking and fierce, but awkward jabs ensued.
Donnae, a quiet girl who, tests show, has no learning or behavioral disorders, landed a few good punches. Delisha Dunlap, her best friend, said she fought to defend herself.
“I didn’t like what happened,” Delisha said. “It didn’t need to happen in school. She could have took that somewhere else,” she said, referring to the girl who allegedly started the melee.
“It was childish stuff,” Dunlap added. “Me and her been into it for a long time. She wrote RIP on Facebook. We told the school but they didn’t do nothing.”
Zion-Benton High Superintendent Chris Clark declined to discuss specifics of Donnae’s fight.
“We try to be proactive and partner with families,” Clark said. “We have progressive discipline but there’s also different types of fighting. Our policies provide latitude based on context. We have to look at all of the students we’re responsible for and maintaining a safe climate and culture conducive to learning.”
Teen violence continues to pose problems both in and out of school and some experts say its on the increase among girls.
One out of four violent episodes are being perpetrated by teen girls, up from just a generation ago when it was one girl to every 10 boys, according to the KeystoSaferSchools.com.
In a 2011 survey of ninth- through 12th-graders, the Centers for Disease Control found that 16 percent of male students and 8 percent of female students reported involvement in a physical fight on school property in the previous 12 months. School aside, 24 percent of high school-age girls reported fighting in the preceding year.
Daisy Brooks, who operates an alternative high school at her resource and developmental center in North Chicago, said violence among teen girls and disciplinary problems in general are at an all-time high this school year.
“You wouldn’t believe the attitudes,” Brooks said.
One after-school fight in late April between two female students at Daisy’s was orchestrated with the help of family and friends who showed up to watch and videotape it, Brooks said. A mother of one of the girls jumped into the fray.
“They came back the next day like nothing happened,” said Daisy, who suspended both girls but let one complete her credits at home.
Ed Bates, retired head of the county’s truancy and dropout prevention program and who now works at Daisy’s, said he sees more arguments between girls turning into fights, and a desensitization to fights.
“Students videotape them,” Bates said. “I get some sense they view it as entertainment, not considering the consequences of someone actually getting hurt.”
CeaseFire, a violence intervention group based in Waukegan, recently added a young woman to speak with violence-prone teen girls.
Talonda Cowan, CeaseFire correspondent, said peer pressure lays the groundwork for most fights.
“It sounds cliche, but it’s about fitting in,” Cowan said. “There’s an attitude of ‘They won’t come at me if I’m tough.’ A lot of girls lack good examples. They’re raising themselves. They want to belong — to something.”
Mike Munda, principal of the Lake County Regional Office of Education or ROE Alternative Program, blames a lack of parenting skills and also exposure to adult content through social media. Fights are glorified on YouTube, where student-captured videos of knock-down dragouts abound.
“Facebook is a nightmare,” Munda said. “Ask any administrator in Lake County — Twitter, Instagram and other social outlets, even phones are problems. Nine- and 10-year-olds with phones can access websites they should not be accessing.”
ROE, which currently serves 70 students in a summer program, has not seen a disproportionate increase in girls kicked out of school for violence, Munda said.
Since its inception in 1997, the program has admitted three males for every one female. Drugs are the most common reason for referral. But the second most common, hovering between 25 and 30 percent, is violent behavior including assault, fighting, bullying, and threats.
“Our numbers have stayed pretty consistent,” Munda said. “But the numbers of kids making poor decisions are on the rise.”
Charged with mob action after the ZBTHS fight, Donnae and the other students involved were led out of the school in handcuffs and quickly expelled for a period of one year.
All were sent to ROE, located in Zion. It was the second time for Donnae, who did not do well at ROE after spending three weeks in juvenile detention for the sock battery.
Her mother, Sophia Degraffenreid, said Donnae received no help through the school system, but did receive referrals after her arrest. She wants the high school to pay for another placement, one she can’t afford.
“We need to help kids figure out why they’re fighting, not just kick them out and send them to jail which is what ROE looks like,” Degraffenreid said, citing the program’s uniforms, metal detectors and behavioral “nit-picking.”
“How can ROE expect a behavioral, emotional miracle when no one has done anything for these kids?”
Dismissed from ROE this spring after a string of behavioral infractions, Donnae now has an expulsion on her permanent record. She won’t be returning to Zion-Benton High and other schools can elect not to take her.
Donnae, who spent the last two months of her freshman year in high school, said she only fights when other girls “want to fight me.” She knew, she said, there would be consequences when she jumped in to defend her friend at Zion-Benton High.
“But I wasn’t thinking about them,” she said.