My town’s high school football team will not be playing any more games this year. So far they’ve had a great season, and the team has been a big deal ever since I can remember. Everyone goes to the games and the players are local heroes. But there are no more games this year because the team was caught hazing. I think the school made the right decision, even though many parents and kids are upset about it.
“Hazing” occurs when kids join a new group and the older or more powerful group members make them prove they’re worthy by embarrassing, scaring or even hurting the ‘rookies.”
What happened on this football team was extreme: cutting kids’ hair, putting them in physical danger and pressuring them to do inappropriate things. But many teams or clubs or even just groups of friends, test their new members to make them “earn” their place as part of the group. A group of friends, for example, could make kids do ridiculous favors for them, pressure them into doing something risky, or just tell them that they need to change something about who they are.
The hope is that after you suffer at the hands of the group you want to join, you will be totally accepted as “one of them”: one of the football team, one of the theater crew, one of the cool kids. In the movie Mean Girls, when Regina George says to Katie, “Get in, loser. We’re going shopping,” she’s reminding Katie that she is still not a Plastic, but that her place as part of the group is ever-so-close, as long as she’s willing to put up with Regina’s cruelty.
Are you part of a group that’s forcing you to do things you don’t like or makes you feel unsafe, disrespected, or just plain sad? Here are some things to think about:
- Why do you want to be part of this group? Is it because you really like them, or is it because they’re popular or powerful?
- What will happen if you DO become part of the group after the “hazing”? Will you ever really have the respect of other group members?
- How would you feel watching someone else being treated poorly?
- What would you do if you become part of the group and are now expected to be mean to a new group member? Is that who you are?
- What will happen if you decide you don’t want to be part of the group? Who are other kids you can hang out with, or other activities you can join?
- What does a good group of friends look like? What does a good team look like?
- If I’m on a sports team or in a club that feels unsafe, who can I go to for help?
A friend who makes you prove your friendship in dangerous ways is not a real friend. Remember that your self-respect and power is NEVER worth giving away!