Hazing Targets Younger Kids

Study finds middle and high school athletes at risk

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By
HealthScout Reporter

THURSDAY, May 3 (HealthScout) -- Think of hazing and you probably picture late-night fraternity rites or maybe military training.

Well, think younger.

Almost 20 percent of high school and middle school athletes say they've been hazed, researchers say. And every sport -- particularly cheerleading -- includes a form of hazing, some of it violent.

"Hazing practices have become more and more violent over the years," says Dr. Eric Small, who presented his findings this week at the Pediatric Academic Societies' annual meeting in Baltimore.

"They've trickled down to as young as the seventh- and eighth-grade," adds Small, a specialist in sports medicine at Mount Sinai Medical Center in New York City.

"Physicians, parents and coaches need to be aware that hazing is occurring and take an active stance against it," he warns.

Small surveyed 1,105 athletes in suburban New York middle and high schools, and 192 -- or 17 percent -- said they'd been hazed. Boys and girls were targeted equally. But boys were more likely to be victims of violent hazing, which, Small says, includes "paddling, hitting or punching."

While hazing occurred in every sport, it was most common in cheerleading, he adds. Hazing in cheerleading tended not to be violent -- it included things like "wearing funny clothing, or eating something strange, or getting a crazy haircut," he says.

What's prompting the hazing craze?

"Initiation rites are really a very functional need and a major developmental activity of a teen-ager in society," says Nadine Hoover, the author of several hazing studies for Alfred University in Alfred, N.Y. "Hazing is using acts of humiliation or endangerment to create a bond or sense of initiation."

Small says hazing can create a vicious cycle, not unlike the cycle of sexual abuse. "People who have been victims gain some kind of satisfaction in victimizing younger kids," he says.

In fact, most of the students who said they'd been hazed were satisfied with their experiences, Small says, adding that 86 percent felt the hazing was "worth it." Only 10 percent told their parents, and just 3.7 percent ended up quitting the team.

Small urged parents and coaches to adopt a zero-tolerance attitude toward hazing. But he and Hoover agree that the vacuum created by banning hazing must be filled with something more benign, or new hazing practices will arise.

Hoover, who is a consultant to many college sports teams, says coaches often think inventing new initiation rites will be simple. They end up returning to her, scratching their heads, saying, "This is tough!"

"Initiation rites need to be authentic and unusual," she explains. The Outward Bound program, for example, gives teens a real sense of challenge, and results in strong, constructive bonds.

Hoover also notes that parental participation in children's lives drops off as they get older, particularly as they head into high school. While it may be hard for parents to mentor their own child, she says, it's important for adults to involve themselves with teens, so that kids aren't totally subjected to peer pressures.

What To Do

For more information on all forms of hazing, including suggestions on ways to prevent it, visit StopHazing.org. For Hoover's study on high school hazing, go to Alfred University's Web site.

And you can read this HealthScout story about a tragic case of hazing at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

SOURCES: Interviews with Eric Small, M.D., specialist in sports medicine at Mount Sinai Medical Center, New York, New York; Nadine Hoover, Ph.D., private consultant with Human Development Consulting, specializing in issues of education, community and non-violence among youth, Alfred, N.Y.

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