Sue Scheff: Back to School - School Fights

As school is opening, be an educated parent - read more about school fights and parenting tips to help you help your child.

School Fights

“People are just throwing words, and words turn into action and they start hitting each other.”

– David, 16, on school fights he has witnessed

One in three teens, both boys and girls, say they’ve been in a school fight, according to the latest survey by the National Youth Violence Prevention Resource Center. In the dynamic of fighting, there is an attacker and a victim, and typically, one more child: a witness, who is also a victim.

Some students say fights are almost commonplace. But for every child in a fight, there are a hundred others who watch, and it’s frightening. Ron, 17, says just a couple of weekends ago, a brawl broke out in the stands at his high schools basketball game.

“The stands emptied, everybody came to the middle of the floor and just kind of converged. I think there were a few people taken to jail,” says Ron.

Fights are scary, for those in the fight, and for those who watch.

“If the child is more of a sensitive kid, and more aware that somebody could get hurt, it could be a very frightening incident for them,” explains psychologist Dr. Alexandra Phipps.

“When I see it happening, it…upsets me,” says Ron.

Parents need to be aware of the impact witnessing a fight can have on their child, and respect how their child is feeling, says Phipps. “I think it’s really important for a parent to listen to what a child says and listen for the emotion, and in no way belittle what the child says they are feeling.”

Experts say if your child has witnessed a fight, look for symptoms of stress, including nightmares, difficulty sleeping, or even reluctance to return to school.

“If any of these symptoms go on for more than a week, I would consider taking the child to a family psychologist,” Phipps says.

Tips for Parents

It is difficult to gauge how a particular child will respond to witnessing fighting and other scenes of violence in school. However parents still know their children best, and know what is normal behavior for his or her child. According to The National PTA, sudden changes in a child’s behavior, whether the changes are subtle or dramatic, can serve to alert parents that something is troubling their child. The National PTA provides the following list of signs that a child may be suffering from emotional upset as a result of exposure to violent behavior.

■Withdrawal from friends
■Decline in grades
■Abruptly quitting sports or clubs the child had previously enjoyed
■Sleep disruptions
■Eating problems
■Chronic physical complaints (stomachache or headaches)

It is important that parents not overreact to these behaviors in their children, since they may be signs of normal adolescent development. However, these symptoms do indicate that parents should be aware of changes in their kids’ behavior, and think about them as potential problem indicators.

The following suggestions for ways that parents can help make schools a safer environment for their children are excerpted from information provided by the Center for Effective Collaboration and Practice:

■Discuss the school's discipline policy with your child. Show your support for the rules, and help your child understand the reasons for them.
■Involve your child in setting rules for appropriate behavior at home.
■Talk with your child about the violence he or she sees--on television, in video games, and possibly in the neighborhood. Help your child understand the consequences of violence.
■Teach your child how to solve problems. Praise your child when he or she follows through.
■Help your child find ways to show anger that do not involve verbally or physically hurting others. When you get angry, use it as an opportunity to model these appropriate responses for your child-and talk about it.
■Help your child understand the value of accepting individual differences.
■Note any disturbing behaviors in your child. For example, frequent angry outbursts, excessive fighting and bullying of other children, cruelty to animals, fire setting, frequent behavior problems at school and in the neighborhood, lack of friends, and alcohol or drug use can be signs of serious problems. Get help for your child. Talk with a trusted professional in your child's school or in the community.
■Keep lines of communication open with your child--even when it is tough. Encourage your child always to let you know where and with whom he or she will be. Get to know your child's friends.
■Listen to your child if he or she shares concerns about friends who may be exhibiting troubling behaviors. Share this information with a trusted professional, such as the school psychologist, principal, or teacher.
■Be involved in your child's school life by supporting and reviewing homework, talking with his or her teacher(s), and attending school functions such as parent conferences, class programs, open houses, and PTA meetings.
■Work with your child's school to make it more responsive to all students and to all families. Share your ideas about how the school can encourage family involvement, welcome all families, and include them in meaningful ways in their children's education.
■Encourage your school to offer before- and after-school programs.
■Volunteer to work with school-based groups concerned with violence prevention. If none exist, offer to form one.
■Find out if there is a violence prevention group in your community. Offer to participate in the group's activities.
■Talk with the parents of your child's friends. Discuss how you can form a team to ensure your children's safety.
■Find out if your employer offers provisions for parents to participate in school activities.


■National Parent Teacher Association
■National Youth Violence Prevention Resource Center
■The Center for Effective Collaboration and Practice

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