Parents and adults can use a variety of strategies to address and prevent hazing
Commit to learning more about hazing – including reflecting on your own attitudes and beliefs about this illegal and harmful activity.
Research has shown that hazing practices are all too common within the lives of young people at the middle school and high school levels. While many teens have reported that they’ve experienced actions consistent with definitions of hazing, far fewer actually labeled these experiences as hazing. While there are many reasons for this disconnect, an important contributor may be the willingness of some adults to minimize these practices and see them as harmless or important to a group’s traditions. Many experts stress the important need for adults who care about and who work with young people to increase their efforts to shine a light on and end these illegal and harmful behaviors.
Hazing can take place in any type of youth setting. For example, within schools, hazing practices have been used by athletic teams, bands and other performing arts groups, and Reserved Officers’ Training Corps (ROTC). Studies have also shown that hazing may be part of groups that youth are involved with outside of school. Whether you’re the parent of a young person or an adult who works within youth settings, here are a few strategies you can use to address and prevent hazing situations.
Commit to learning more about hazing
The National Center on Safe Supportive Learning Environments, which is funded by the U.S. Department of Education, recently provided two webinars designed to help those who work at the college, high school and middle school levels build their understanding about hazing and ways to address and prevent it. You can learn more about each of these webinars and view their recordings by clicking on the webinar titles: Preventing Hazing on Campus (originally aired Dec. 17, 2015) and Strategies to Prevent Hazing on Campus (originally aired March 3, 2016). One of the resource people featured in both these webinars was Elizabeth Allan, a professor of Higher Education at the University of Maine, Orono, and president of StopHazing. This organization provides information on hazing research and strategies for prevention, as well as other resources to deepen understanding about these issues. Another helpful resource is HazingPrevention.org, which provides a variety of resources to empower people to prevent hazing. One of this organization’s initiatives is the annual National Hazing Prevention Week, which will take place on Sept. 19-23, 2016. The website provides resource guides that high schools and colleges can use to plan activities for observing the week.
Identify practices that may promote hazing
It’s important for adults to reflect on their own attitudes about hazing. Even though hazing is illegal and clearly prohibited by the codes of conduct of many schools and youth organizations, some adults continue to minimize these practices and view them as harmless. In fact, research indicates that many young people who have experienced hazing believed that their coaches and advisers were aware of the hazing activities. Adults who work in youth settings need to make it clear to young people that hazing behaviors are unacceptable and won’t be tolerated in any form. Adults can also be alert to situations where young people might be meeting in secret to carry out hazing, as well as those that promote power imbalances (such as allowing the established members of a group to treat new members as “less than”).
Find out how schools and organizations address hazing
If adults expect young people to understand that hazing is illegal and prohibited within their schools and other youth settings, it’s important to find out how hazing is addressed within their policies and codes of conduct. You can also explore ways that these settings are providing education to both young people and adults so they can better understand what hazing looks like, how to report it, and ways that individuals and groups will be held accountable for carrying out these harmful activities. In addition to processes that schools might have in place for reporting hazing activities, young people can also utilize the Michigan OK2SAY resource which allows them to confidentially submit tips related to unsafe activities either online or by using email, texting or a mobile app.
Be alert for “red flags” that may indicate that hazing is happening
Parents and those who work directly with youth groups – as well as any other adults who interact with kids – can boost their ability to look for signs that a young person may be experiencing hazing. For example, look for changes in behavior that might correspond with the time that a young person joined a particular team or group. Also listen for how young people might describe a group’s initiation activities and whether these actually fall within the definition of hazing.
Help young people use their voices and create healthy alternatives
Just as bystanders have a powerful role to play in addressing bullying and cyberbullying, young people who witness or hear about hazing can also take action. Encourage them to have conversations with their friends and peers about these issues, and help them practice using their voices to challenge and interrupt hazing behaviors. Help them create positive activities that teams and groups can use to welcome new members and that promote respect and dignity rather than belittling and humiliation. If they need ideas, suggest that they do an online search for “alternatives to hazing,” which might identify ideas like those created at Cornell University that are designed to build group unity as well as a sense of individual accomplishment.
To learn more about these issues, including research on hazing and additional ways to talk with young people about hazing, see the article titled, Hazing practices are all too common at the high school and middle school levels. You may also be interested in a Michigan State University Extension initiative called Be SAFE: Safe, Affirming and Fair Environments, which is designed to help adults and young people work in partnership to create positive relationships and inclusive settings.