Teen Hazing Becoming a Widespread Problem
When you hear the word “hazing,” more than likely you think about college fraternities. However, hazing is no longer just a college phenomenon. Teens are involved in more disturbing hazing incidents at younger ages than ever before. You won’t believe what happens these days on school buses, in locker rooms, and even at church youth groups. “Younger and younger kids are hazing one another, and the rituals are becoming increasingly violent and sexualized,” says psychologist Susan Lipkins, author of Preventing Hazing: How Parents, Teachers and Coaches Can Stop the Violence, Harassment and Humiliation (Jossey-Bass).
Take a look at just a few of the news headlines about teen hazing:
- In November 2013, David Beckham admitted to being hazed as a teenager. He was forced to perform a humiliating sex act before joining Manchester United’s youth team.
- In a July 2012 court, a teen boy in Maine testified that, as a high school freshman, he “earned” his place on the varsity soccer team when fellow players grabbed his legs and “poked his butt cheeks.”
- In 2009, a high school’s senior class in suburban Millburn, New Jersey created and circulated a “Slut List,” which included the names of 21 incoming female students, along with lewd sexual comments. Some seniors also ordered freshman females to show up for school in camouflage shirts, blew whistles in their faces and shoved them into lockers. Within a few days of the incident, the town’s middle school administrators discovered that some of their school’s older girls had ordered certain younger girls to wear a specific color shirt to school so that they could be hazed, too.
Here are some of the statistics available on high school hazing:
- 1.5 million high school students are hazed each year.
- 91% of all high school students belong to at least one group, and 48% of them report being subjected to hazing activities. Both male and female students are hazed.
- 43% were subjected to humiliating activities and 30% performed potentially illegal acts as part of their initiation.
- Every kind of high school group was involved in hazing including 24% of students involved in church groups.
- 79% of the NCAA athletes report being hazed initially in high school.
- 92% of high school students said they will not report hazing.
The Psychology of Hazing
In general, those who take part in hazing rites don’t intend for anyone to get hurt, says Elizabeth J. Allan, Ph.D., Associate Professor at the University of Maine in Orono and co-author of the largest study ever done on hazing. “Instead, the situation just spins out of control. The mild behaviors create a slippery slope,” says Allan.
Teenagers can actually feel flattered and respected by the rituals of hazing. They like that they are becoming part of a group, even if they disagree with the actual hazing. The University of Maine researchers found that 31% of teens say hazing makes them feel part of the group and 18% believe it makes them a stronger person. To many students, they don’t see hazing as a problem, but rather a tradition.
The culture of hazing makes it difficult to eliminate. Many people dismiss hazing as harmless fun, which makes victims feel unsupported if they report the problem. Others are afraid of reporting hazing for fear that the group will ostracize them.
To combat the culture of hazing, we should talk to youth, from middle school on, about the topic. Key points that parents should explain are:
- hazing is abusive and degrading, and is not acceptable behavior
- just because someone agrees to be humiliated doesn’t mean it’s okay
- it’s important to stop incidents before they start, because while not all hazing is horrible, seemingly harmless acts can escalate without warning
- hazing actually breeds mistrust and alienation, not respect or camaraderie
- do not be a bystander; report hazing immediately
Almost every school (from elementary-age to college-level) in the United States has an anti-hazing policy and most have procedures for reporting violations. Right now, 44 states have laws against hazing. It’s equally important that these institutions publicize their hazing policies and consequences for those who participate in hazing, provide support to those who report hazing, and develop incentives for groups to implement non-hazing, positive group initiations. In a recent survey of high school students, respondents rated strong, disciplinary measures for known hazing incidents (61%) and police investigation and prosecution of hazing cases (50%) as the best prevention strategies. Parents should request schools take a hard stance on hazing.
Experts agree that the most important way to prevent hazing is for people to report it immediately when they see it occur. Only when hazing is being reported and punished will it stop. Talking to your teen is an important step in that process.