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‘Mean girls’ trend points to deeper problem

Psychologists, educators disturbed by lack of adult guidance for teens

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'A real qualitative change'
Jan. 18: Dr. Howard Spivak, director of the Tufts University Center for Children, tells MSNBC's Chris Jansing that girls are fighting much more than they were a decade ago.
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Even the officer leading the police investigation admits that the video of three New York girls beating up a classmate — widely available for a time on MySpace.com — is hard to take.

“Every time I watch it — the second time you watch it, the third time — it’s not any easier than the first time,” Suffolk County Lt. Robert Edwards said Thursday in an interview with MSNBC’s Chris Jansing. “It’s pretty traumatic and kind of graphic.”

But you need to watch it. Psychologists and educators say it points to a disturbing trend that is being left unchecked by parents and school officials: the eagerness of American girls to seek approbation by flaunting increasingly outrageous behavior.

Suffolk County police arrested three teenage girls this week and said they were the assailants seen kicking, punching and pulling the hair of a 13-year-old girl last month. Several boys could be seen watching the beating but doing nothing, and Edwards said further arrests were possible.

It is not the only recent incident in which teenage girls have drawn attention by engaging in wild or destructive behavior.

In May, four Illinois high school girls soccer players were hospitalized after a postgame brawl — as parents stood by or even, police said, joined the fight.

And in photographs posted to MySpace, a social networking Web site, cheerleaders from a Texas high school were recently seen drinking, flashing their panties and holding sex toys. Classmates described the five girls as an out-of-control elite clique who routinely broke school regulations without consequence.

‘The gender gap in ... violence is declining’
These are not random, isolated incidents, psychologists say. As mass media and the Internet send increasingly violent and misogynistic messages, young girls are finding it difficult to work out appropriate ways to win friendship and support, and they “are increasingly turning to physical violence to solve their problems and to gain social acceptance,” according to a report from the Harvard School of Public Health.

“The gender gap in serious violence is declining,” said a study by the Center for the Study and Prevention of Violence at the University of Colorado.

“If recent trends continue, female delinquents will occupy even more of the time and attention of researchers, policymakers, service providers, court officials, law enforcement agencies, and communities,” it added.

Federal statistics tend to bear out that assessment. From 1992 to 2003, the most recent year for which complete figures are available in the Justice Department’s Uniform Crime Report, the number of girls who were arrested on all charges increased by 6.4 percent, compared with a decline among boys of 16.4 percent. Most striking were the figures for assault: In that 11-year period, arrests of girls nationwide rose 41 percent, as opposed to a 4.3 percent rise among boys.


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