Harvard Mental Health Letter

When children assault children

A study based on more than 2,000 telephone interviews suggests that child-on-child violence should be taken more seriously than it usually is. Researchers collected information from children ages 10–17 and the parents of children ages 2–9. They were asked whether, in the past year, the child had been attacked or hit with or without a stick, rock, knife, or other object by another child; and more specifically, whether the child had been hit at any time even by a brother or sister, or hit or kicked in the private parts by another child.

About 20% of the children had been assaulted by another child in the previous year. About a third of these attacks came from siblings, and were usually mentioned only in response to the phrase "even a brother or sister."

Researchers recorded whether the child was injured and whether the violence had occurred five or more times in the previous year. The children and parents checked off a list of traumatic symptoms. After correcting for the possible effects of other traumatic events and chronic stress, including illness, accidents, natural disasters, and family conflict, as well as social class and ethnic background, the analysts found that child-on-child violence had more or less the same effects as adult violence. On average, injuries were as serious, chronic violence was as common, and the resulting traumatic symptoms were similar.

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