• Focus groups;
  • adolescent;
  • violence;
  • aggression;
  • perception;
  • prevention


Objective: To explore aspects of aggression, in particular fighting and weapon carrying, among high school students. This was in response to an earlier survey of Dunedin young people and will assist in the development of a broader quantitative study on aggression among high schools students.

Methods: A qualitative investigation using eight focus groups of 41 participants was conducted in Otago, New Zealand, between November 2004 and February 2005. The focus groups were analysed to identify common themes and critical issues.

Results: Results suggest there are different levels of fighting, but participants agreed that a fight should be defined as serious as opposed to a play fight. Fights often begin as verbal and escalate to physical. Differences were found in fighting at school and outside of school. Whether an item was considered a weapon or not depended on the intended use of the item. Participants suggested that some items may be reported as weapons, even though they are not being carried for such purposes. If so, the estimates provided in the prior Dunedin survey may be unduly high.

Conclusions: Surveys such as the Youth Risk Behaviour Survey provide a snapshot of youth aggression, but may hide significant differences in the nature of the aggression being reported.

Implications: Prevention should concentrate on changing the social environment of our schools and communities. Further research should include more in-depth questions on fighting and weapon carrying, both at school and outside of school, to better estimate the prevalence of these behaviours and the context in which they occur.