Hazing is a well-known and long-standing part of the fabric of our society. If we haven't been through it ourselves, we likely know someone who has. But the practice of hazing as a way to indoctrinate a new member of a club, team or other group is on the rise and the ages of the participants are dropping. Is this just a normal part of growing up or should we be concerned?
College fraternities and sororities are perhaps the best known of the groups that regularly require hazing as a rite of initiation, but lately it seems that many high school and even middle school groups are joining in. School band members have been suspended for participating in dangerous hazing rituals, cheer leading squads have jumped into the fray and even some church youth groups are sheepishly admitting that they too have crossed over to the dark side.
Although many still think of hazing as a harmless prank, a joke that leaves everyone, even the “hazees” laughing, hazing is more pernicious than it might appear at first glance. Hazing is defined as “any activity expected of someone joining a group (or to maintain full status in a group) that humiliates, degrades or risks emotional and/or physical harm, regardless of the person's willingness to participate.” The key here is that the activities are, by their very nature, designed to humiliate and degrade . . . and include the risk of physical or emotional harm. And the fact is that, as with so many things, our kids are busily trying to outdo each other. Hazing is becoming an on-going game of one-upsmanship. The activities are getting more risky and more violent.
Should we be concerned? What's causing this and why are our kids directing so much anger and viciousness at their friends?
These are good questions and I'm afraid I don't really have the answers. Could it be that our kids have been exposed to so much violence, from the nightly news to movies and video games, that they have become desensitized and callous? There is a lot of psychological research that suggests media violence can have such an effect on children. Have we as parents lost sight of our values or are we simply failing to
communicate them to our children? As parents are forced to work longer hours and multiple jobs to pay the bills are our kids just spending too much time unsupervised? It makes me wonder. Are we, despite our best intentions, somehow raising a generation of sociopaths?
Sociopathy is a personality disorder that may be caused by genetic factors or by environmental influences or by some combination of the two. Whatever it's cause, it seems that we are seeing more and more evidence of it in our young people. Girls uploading video-taped beatings administered to their own friends, boy scout troops blindfolding new members and letting them listen to faked beatings and screaming of other new members, cheerleaders pushing blindfolded and bound new squad members (some of whom could not swim) into a pool? This isn't harmless fun. This is scary. But does it cross the line into sociopathic behavior?
Much of it may not, but more and more hazing stories do seem to be nearing or even perhaps crossing that line. Consider the following list of indicators of sociopathy:
Glibness and manipulativeness
Lack of remorse, shame or guilt
Callousness or lack of empathy
Inability to see anything wrong with their behavior
Only rarely in difficulty with the law, but seeking out situations where their tyrannical behavior will be tolerated, condoned, or admired
Goal to create or control a victim
Cruelty, lack of conscience.
Now consider the story of the cheerleaders and watch the following clip that details their activities and their disturbing reaction to the video-taped interview of the mother of one of their victims. Watch the Good Morning America clip “High School Hazing Goes Too Far.”
Reactions? Please, tell me if you see what I see. Glibness, lack of remorse, a chilling lack of empathy . . . if those girls were my daughters I wouldn't be able to sign them up for therapy quickly enough. Please let me know what you think and what you think that, as parents, we can do to prevent our own kids from getting involved, either as victim or victimizer. I'd love to hear what you think.
For more information on hazing, check out www.stophazing.org.