"They mess with me, I mess with them": Understanding physical aggression in rural girls and boys from methamphetamine-involved families

Wendy Haight, Jane Marshall, Sydney Hans, James Black, Kathryn Sheridan

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

11 Scopus citations


This mixed method study examines the mental health and experiences of physical aggression in 41 children aged six to 14. years from rural families involved with methamphetamine misuse and the child welfare system. Each child was seen for a minimum of 3. h total by experienced clinicians on at least three sessions conducted at the child's home. Fifty percent of children scored in the clinical range (98th percentile and above) on externalizing and 26% on aggression scales of the Child Behavior Checklist (CBCL). More girls (75%) scored in the clinical range on CBCL externalizing behaviors than did boys (32%). During individual, semi-structured interviews, 17 children spontaneously produced 58 narratives of past physical aggression. These were primarily set at home and involved adults and the children themselves. Children primarily attributed physical aggression to anger and adult substance misuse, and described negative outcomes of the aggression. In contrast, a subgroup of girls with clinically significant levels of CBCL externalizing behaviors characterized their own physical aggression as appropriate retaliation with emotionally satisfying consequences. Many of these girls also scored in the clinically significant range on CBCL internalizing behaviors and total problems. Clinicians who collected the data expressed concern about these girls, in particular because they were ostracized from non delinquent peer groups, viewed others' continuing physical aggression against them as an inevitable part of their future, and described their own physical aggression as unavoidably driven by that violence. The perspectives of this subgroup of girls are elaborated through a case study of a physically aggressive 12-year-old. Implications for intervention are discussed.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1223-1234
Number of pages12
JournalChildren and Youth Services Review
Issue number10
StatePublished - Oct 2010

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
This research was supported by NIDA grant R21DA020551-01A2 . Thanks to Jennifer Greene for consultation on data analysis in mixed method research, and feedback on earlier drafts of this manuscript. Thanks also to Linda Kingery and Rebecca Jones who collected data, Matthew Black who helped to code data, and Jun Hong for his feedback on an earlier draft.

Copyright 2010 Elsevier B.V., All rights reserved.


  • Girls
  • Methamphetamine
  • Physical aggression
  • Rural families


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