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Violence-Related Attitudes and Behaviors of High School Students -- New York City, 1992

Homicide is the leading cause of death among New York City (NYC) youth aged 15-19 years (1) and the second leading cause of death among this age group nationally (2). During the 1980s, the rate of firearm-related homicide increased more rapidly among this age group than did any other cause of death (2). The 1991 national school-based Youth Risk Behavior Survey indicated that 26% of students in grades 9-12 reported carrying a weapon at least once during the 30 days preceding the survey (3). To more effectively target violence-prevention programs for youth in NYC, in 1992 the NYC Department of Health (NYCDOH), the NYC Public Schools (NYCPS), and CDC conducted a survey of violence-related attitudes and behaviors among a representative sample of NYC public high school students. This report summarizes the results of the survey.

A self-administered questionnaire was given to a representative sample of 9th-12th grade students in the NYCPS during June 1992. The sampling frame included all academic, vocational, and alternative NYC public high schools stratified by presence (n=19) or absence (n=96) of a school-based metal detector program. Schools in the metal detector program were visited approximately weekly by a team of security officers with hand-held metal detectors who scanned randomly selected students as they entered the building. Self-reported data were collected from 100% (n=15, three with and 12 without metal detectors) of sampled schools and 67% (n=1399) of sampled students.

During the 1991-92 school year, 36.1% of all 9th-12th grade NYC public school students surveyed reported being threatened with physical harm, and 24.7% were involved in a physical fight anywhere (including home, school, and neighborhood) (Table_1). Overall, 21% of students reported carrying a weapon such as a gun, knife, or club anywhere 1 or more days during the 30 days preceding the survey; 16.1% of students reported carrying a knife or razor; and 7.0% reported carrying a handgun. In comparison, rates for violent and potentially dangerous behaviors were substantially lower inside the school building (being threatened, 14.4%; carrying a weapon, 12.5%; carrying a knife or razor, 10.0%; being involved in a physical fight, 7.7%; and carrying a handgun, 3.7%) and when going to or from school.

Students who attended schools with metal detector programs (18% of students) were as likely as those who attended schools without metal detector programs to have carried a weapon anywhere (21.6% versus 21.2%) but were less likely to have carried a weapon inside the school building (7.8% versus 13.6%) or going to and from school (7.7% versus 15.2%) (Table_2). The decrease in school-related weapon-carrying reflected reductions in the carrying of both knives and handguns. Presence of school-based metal detector programs had no apparent effect on the prevalence of threats and physical fights in any location.

Compared with all 9th-12th grade students, students who were involved in a physical fight in school during the 1991-92 school year were less likely to believe that apologizing (38.1% versus 19.0%) and avoiding or walking away from someone who wants to fight (55.5% versus 35.5%) were effective ways to avoid a physical fight, and they were more likely to believe their families would want them to hit back if someone hit them first (56.9% versus 77.9%) (Table_3). Compared with all 9th-12th grade students, students who carried a weapon inside the school building during the 30 days preceding the survey were more likely to believe that threatening to use a weapon (21.4% versus 43.9%) and carrying a weapon (19.9% versus 47.9%) were effective ways to avoid a physical fight; were more likely to believe their families would want them to defend themselves from attack even if it meant using a weapon (43.6% versus 67.5%); and were more likely to feel safer during a physical fight if they had a knife (29.6% versus 64.2%) or a handgun (26.5% versus 60.5%). Reported by: C Ginsberg, New York City Dept of Health; L Loffredo, New York City Public Schools. Div of Adolescent and School Health, National Center for Chronic Disease Prevention and Health Promotion; Div of Violence Prevention, National Center for Injury Prevention and Control, CDC.

Editorial Note

Editorial Note: The findings in this report indicate that violent behaviors and weapon-carrying among youth are substantial problems in both school and community settings. The rates for physical fighting and weapon-carrying among NYC public high school students reported here are consistent with national surveys (3,4). The national health objectives for the year 2000 target reductions in homicide rates (objective 7.1), assaultive injuries (objective 7.6), physical fighting (objective 7.9), and weapon-carrying (objective 7.10) among adolescents and for increasing violence-prevention education and intervention programs in schools (objective 7.16) and communities (objective 7.17) (5). In addition, National Education Goal 6 for the year 2000 is for all schools to be free of drugs and violence and to offer a disciplined environment conducive to learning (6).

This survey of NYC public high school students suggests that violent behaviors reflect the personal attitudes of students and the attitudes students attribute to their families. Reducing the occurrence of violence in schools will require the coordination of school-based violence-prevention programs with community-based organizations, parent groups, teachers, and state and local health and other agencies that serve youth (7). In addition to school-based violence-prevention programs for youth, parents must be taught information and skills to modify the social values, attitudes, and behaviors that foster youth violence in any setting. Violence-related attitudes, behaviors, and injuries should be monitored to guide and evaluate policy and prevention programs.

Approximately one fourth of large urban school districts in the United States use metal detectors to help reduce weapon-carrying in schools (National School Safety Center, unpublished data, 1991). The findings in NYC suggest that school-based metal detector programs may help reduce, but not eliminate, weapon-carrying in schools and to and from schools. It is unknown whether these programs reduced the incidence of violence-related injury and death in NYC schools and whether respondents from schools with metal detector programs may have been less likely to report weapon-carrying. Metal detector programs alone cannot end youth violence -- among NYC public school students, these programs did not reduce nonschool-related weapon-carrying or threats and physical fights in any location. These findings underscore the need for rigorous evaluations of school-based metal detector programs to establish the strengths and limitations of this intervention.

NYCDOH, in collaboration with the NYCPS, other local agencies, parents, and community groups has instituted the "Safe Routes to School/Safe Havens" program in one neighborhood to reduce violence and pedestrian injuries going to and from school. NYCDOH also is piloting a violence-prevention program in collaboration with community-based youth programs. In 1992, the NYCPS instituted peer mediation centers and conflict resolution/negotiation curricula for high school students and is working to implement or expand developmentally appropriate skills-based violence-prevention education for students in kindergarten through 12th grade. Public health, education, justice, and other agencies must combine their efforts to reduce violence among youth.

References

  1. New York City Department of Health. Injury mortality in New York City. New York: New York City Department of Health, 1993.

  2. Fingerhut LA, Ingram DD, Feldman JJ. Firearm and nonfirearm homicide among persons 15 through 19 years of age: differences by level of urbanization, United States, 1979 through 1989. JAMA 1992;267:3048-53.

  3. Kann L, Warren W, Collins JL, Ross J, Collins B, Kolbe LJ. Results from the national school-based 1991 Youth Risk Behavior Survey and progress toward achieving related health objectives for the nation. Public Health Rep 1993;108(suppl 1):47-55.

  4. CDC. Weapon-carrying among high school students -- United States, 1990. MMWR 1991; 40:681-4.

  5. Public Health Service. Healthy people 2000: national health promotion and disease prevention objectives -- full report, with commentary. Washington, DC: US Department of Health and Human Services, Public Health Service, 1991; DHHS publication no. (PHS)91-50212.

  6. National Education Goals Panel. Measuring progress toward the National Education Goals: potential indicators and measurement strategies -- discussion document. Washington, DC: National Education Goals Panel, 1991.

  7. National Center for Injury Prevention and Control. The prevention of youth violence: a framework for community action. Atlanta: US Department of Health and Human Services, Public Health Service, CDC, 1993.


Table_1
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TABLE 1. Percentage of high school students who were threatened, involved in a
physical fight, and/or carried weapons going to or from school, inside the school
building, or anywhere -- New York City, 1992
====================================================================================

                          To/From school       Inside school         Anywhere
                         -----------------   -----------------   -----------------
Behavior                  %    (95% CI *)     %     (95% CI)      %     (95% CI)
----------------------------------------------------------------------------------
Threatened +             15.7  (13.1-18.4)   14.4  (10.8-18.0)   36.1  (30.8-41.4)

Involved in a physical
  fight +                 9.2  ( 6.3-12.1)    7.7  ( 5.0-10.4)   24.7  (21.5-28.0)

Carried a weapon &       13.9  (11.0-16.8)   12.5  ( 9.6-15.5)   21.3  (17.8-24.7)
  Knife or razor         10.6  ( 8.0-13.1)   10.0  ( 7.7-12.3)   16.1  (13.4-18.9)
  Handgun                 4.1  ( 3.4- 4.8)    3.7  ( 3.1- 4.3)    7.0  ( 5.0- 8.9)
----------------------------------------------------------------------------------
* Confidence interval.
+ At least once during the 1991-92 school year.
& On >=1 day during the 30 days preceding the survey.
====================================================================================


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Table_2
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TABLE 2. Prevalence among high school students of being threatened, involved in a
physical fight, and carrying weapons to or from school, inside the school building, or
anywhere, by presence or absence of a school-based metal detector program -- New
York City, 1992
=========================================================================================

                                 Metal detector program        No metal detector
                                        (n=243)                 program (n=1156)
                                 ----------------------        ------------------
Behavior                            %     (95% CI *)            %      (95% CI)
---------------------------------------------------------------------------------
Threatened +
  Anywhere                         35.7   (20.5-50.9)          36.2   (30.7-41.7)
  To/From school                   15.8   (10.9-20.6)          15.7   (12.7-18.7)
  Inside school                    15.3   ( 8.5-22.1)          14.2   (10.0-18.4)

Involved in a physical fight +
  Anywhere                         26.2   (14.4-38.0)          24.4   (21.5-27.3)
  To/From School                    9.4   ( 6.4-12.3)           9.1   ( 5.6-12.6)
  Inside school                     7.5   ( 0.4-14.5)           7.8   ( 4.9-10.7)

Carried a weapon &
  Anywhere                         21.6   (15.3-28.0)          21.2   (17.3-25.1)
  To/From school                    7.7   ( 5.6- 9.9)          15.2   (11.7-18.8)
  Inside school                     7.8   ( 6.5- 9.1)          13.6   (10.0-17.2)

Carried a knife/razor &
  Anywhere                         14.1   ( 6.5-21.6)          16.6   (13.7-19.5)
  To/From school                    6.3   ( 3.4- 9.2)          11.5   ( 8.4-14.5)
  Inside school                     5.0   ( 2.8- 7.3)          11.1   ( 8.3-13.8)

Carried a handgun &
  Anywhere                          7.3   ( 0.1-14.5)           6.9   ( 5.2-8.6)
  To/From school                    1.9   ( 0.0- 3.9)           4.6   ( 3.8- 5.4)
  Inside school                     2.1   ( 1.1- 3.2)           4.0   ( 3.3- 4.7)
---------------------------------------------------------------------------------
* Confidence interval.
+ At least once during the 1991-92 school year.
& On >=1 day during the 30 days preceding the survey.
=========================================================================================


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Table_3
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TABLE 3. Violence-related attitudes of high school students who were involved in a
physical fight in school during the 1991-92 school year or who carried a weapon in
school during the 30 days preceding the survey -- New York City, 1992
====================================================================================================

                             Students involved    Students who carried         Total
                            in a physical fight    a weapon in school    student population
                             in school (n=95)           (n=154)               (n=1399)
                            -------------------   --------------------   ------------------
Violence-related
  attitudes                   %    (95% CI *)       %     (95% CI)        %     (95% CI)
-------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
Effective ways to avoid
  a physical fight
    Threaten weapon use +    36.2  (20.2-52.1)     43.9  (31.3-56.6)     21.4  (17.8-25.1)
    Carry a weapon &         35.1  (21.5-48.7)     47.9  (41.2-54.5)     19.9  (17.5-22.3)
    Avoid/Walk away @        35.5  (27.4-43.6)     43.8  (34.8-52.9)     55.5  (52.2-58.7)
    Apologize  **            19.0  ( 8.1-30.0)     24.5  (16.7-32.2)     38.1  (35.0-41.2)

Family supports fighting
  and weapon use in
  self defense
    Fighting ++              77.9  (71.0-84.7)     76.7  (68.9-84.5)     56.9  (47.3-66.5)
    Weapon use &&            54.8  (44.4-65.3)     67.5  (55.1-79.9)     43.6  (36.6-50.5)

Feel safer with a weapon
  during a physical fight
    Knife @@                 48.9  (33.4-64.4)     64.2  (55.0-73.4)     29.6  (25.8-33.3)
    Handgun ***              50.7  (39.4-62.1)     60.5  (50.9-70.2)     26.5  (24.2-28.9)
-------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
  * Confidence interval.
  + Answered yes to "Threatening to use a weapon is an effective way to avoid a physical
    fight."
  & Answered yes to "Carrying a weapon is an effective way to avoid a physical fight."
  @ Answered yes to "Avoiding or walking away from someone who wants to fight you is an
    effective way to avoid a physical fight."
 ** Answered yes to "Apologizing (saying you're sorry)is an effective way to avoid a physical
    fight."
 ++ Answered yes to "If someone hit me first, my family would want me to hit them back."
 && Answered yes to "If someone attacked me, my family would want me to defend myself,
    even if it meant using a weapon."
 @@ Answered yes to "If I was going to be in a physical fight, I'd feel safer if I had a knife."
*** Answered yes to "If I was going to be in a physical fight, I'd feel safer if I had a handgun."
====================================================================================================


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