Help Prevent Hazing: 10 Easy Tips for Talking with your Teen
July 20, 2023 | Guest Author: Lisa Stephen, PhD., ACC, NBC-HWC
As I was finalizing this blog, I took a break to take a walk along the river. I saw a university rowing team in a boat getting ready to take off. All of them were wearing heavy headpieces. I could hear the coxswain instructing them and spewing derogatory comments. Then, I noticed a few people standing in the water screaming, jumping, pointing, and laughing at the rowers. A faster boat with more proficient rowers suddenly took off, unencumbered by weird hats, taunting, screaming, and swearing at the athletes in the slower boat as they sped by.
When the students in the slower boat stopped rowing, most of them were slumped over, looking toward the bottom of the boat. Some were scrambling to get their headpieces back on their heads. I did not see one single rower smiling. They looked exhausted and humiliated. My stomach turned.
I was a psychologist for over 30 years, and I specialized in working with trauma related to issues of bullying and hazing. I am now a personal, career, and performance coach who focuses on supporting mothers with children approaching and already in their college years.
It is essential that people caring for, supporting, and mentoring teens and young adults be familiar with the realities of hazing. Researchers have found:
- More than half (55%) of college students involved in clubs, teams, and organizations experience hazing.
- Nearly half (47%) of students have experienced hazing prior to coming to college.
In my experience, parents and caretakers typically think that hazing behavior always includes extreme violence and harm, but the seemingly “benign”, frequently occurring experiences of hazing are also detrimental and have lasting effects for both perpetrators and victims. Any form of hazing is always, always, always harmful. Always.
I wrote this blog for parents, guardians, and anyone else who serves in a caretaking role for teens. You can make a difference by talking with your teen and planning ahead for what to do if they encounter hazing. You can support them using the tips below!
- BE HONEST WITH YOURSELF
As you think about the possibility of your teen, or any teen, being hazed, it’s normal to feel a range of difficult emotions. Reflect on how this emotional upset might impact your ability to delve into the topic.
- How do I respond to thinking about my teen being hazed?
- Do I get super anxious and start lecturing them, desperately trying to protect them?
- Do I rationalize (“We sent them to a safe college. I know the coach. Their friends are all good kids.”) and assume that there is no way it would happen to my kid?
- Do I feel terrified and want to put my head in the sand?
- What strategies can I use to regulate my feelings so I can prepare myself and my teen for this conversation?
- SELF-REFLECT ABOUT WHAT MESSAGES YOU ARE SENDING
We challenge our teens to try new things, to step out of their comfort zones, and to see things from different perspectives. It is an essential part of facilitating their growth into young adulthood! Yet, it can also be a slippery slope.
Sometimes, despite having good intentions, we unknowingly send the message that teens need to belong and seek social approval instead of following their instincts. No one wants their teen to be left out of fun social events, but on the other hand, when we push them to participate, it may lead them to take part in activities that they might be shying away from because they could be harmful. Often, we are sending these messages when they are particularly vulnerable because of their intense need to belong. It can be like adding gasoline to a fire when we don’t even know it. Here are a few questions to ask yourself:
- How much do I encourage or even push my child to belong?
- What are the subtle messages they might be getting over time?
- How can I consistently incorporate information about the importance of assessing risk, setting boundaries, following your intuition, reaching out for help, and aligning your behavior with your values?
3. ASSUME THAT THEY WILL LISTEN EVEN IF IT LOOKS LIKE THEY ARE NOT
We often assume that teens are not listening to the advice we give them. And that is for good reason! Does your teen roll their eyes and tell you that you just don’t get it?
Despite how it may look, our teens are most definitely listening. Therefore, it’s important to ensure that even when we don’t think they’re listening, we’re being encouraging with our guidance. Keep those lines of communication open! Reflect on these ideas:
- What can I do to stay calm when it feels like my teen is dismissing me?
- When they don’t appear to be listening, how might I respond in a way that encourages them rather than becoming argumentative?
4. BE THOUGHTFUL ABOUT YOUR TEEN’S COMMUNICATION STYLE
You have heard it before: the best time to talk with a teen is when they are trapped with you on a long drive. But does that actually work well for your teen? Ask yourself:
- What setting tends to work best when talking with my teen about important topics?
- What is the best timing? Does my teen prefer long, late-night chats or is it better to split things up over time?
5. LISTEN, LISTEN, LISTEN
Our teens want to be heard! Here are some things to consider as you are talking:
- What are the points of agreement that I can build on?
- What language is my teen using, and how can I incorporate that into what I say?
- How can I get them to think with me about this very important topic?
6. NORMALIZE THEIR INTENSE NEED TO BELONG
Help your teen to anticipate and understand their very intense need to belong – it is simply a normal part of brain development. Ask yourself:
- How can I talk with my teen about the pros and cons of their drive to belong?
- How might their need to belong put them at risk for hazing or being hazed?
7. KNOW THE FACTS ABOUT HAZING AND TALK ABOUT THEM
The real problem is not that teens think they are invincible; it is that they will often take risks to avoid social isolation despite their fears or concerns about risk. This underscores why it’s so important to talk about their need to belong while you also talk about the facts about hazing. You can:
- Familiarize yourself with the truth about hazing. Take a look at these graphics for succinct summaries about the “Red Flags” for identifying hazing and 5 steps for Bystander Intervention.
- Know the stats.
- Learn about actual hazing cases.
8. THINK WITH YOUR TEEN
Think together and strategize about how to:
- Recognize when they have a “gut instinct” that they are at risk or in a bad situation and how to act on that instinct rather than ignore it.
- Assess the risk, especially in light of their intense need to belong which can lead them to stay in risky situations.
- Consider their values and act in accordance with them.
- Get out of a risky situation as quickly as possible.
- Reach out for help.
- Understand the hazing policies and resources from their school, college, or university.
9. GET PROFESSIONAL SUPPORT
Talking and even thinking about hazing can be a real challenge. Know when you could benefit from support! Think about how you can “front load” your teen so they gain the skills they need before they are in a difficult situation. Consider these resources:
- StopHazing – A research-to-practice organization that provides resources and guidance to promote safe, healthy, and inclusive schools, colleges, and workplaces.
- Therapy or coaching support for yourself and/or for your teen.
- Working with a professional to help you navigate discussions about hazing and other difficult topics.
10. KNOW YOU ARE MAKING A DIFFERENCE!
We cannot protect our teens from everything, but we can make a difference by educating ourselves and our kids about hazing. And, most importantly, we can think with teens so they can plan for how they might respond if they encounter it.
In short, be open and honest with your teen about hazing, and be mindful of how you approach conversations. There is, unfortunately, no single how-to guide, because every teen is a bit different! However, you can use these tools to guide your conversations in the right direction to help your teen to make well-informed choices to support their health and safety in addition to strengthening your bond with them and encouraging them to come to you when they need help.
Prepare yourself and your teen while keeping the lines of communication wide open!
More about Lisa M. Stephen, Ph.D., ACC, NBC-HWC
Doctorate – Counseling Psychology
Associate Certified Coach – International Coaching Federation
National Board Certified Health and Wellness Coach
Dr. Lisa Stephen has more than 30 years of professional experience as a practicing psychologist. She holds a doctorate in counseling psychology from Michigan State University and a master’s in counseling psychology from Boston College. She has worked in private practice, residential treatment centers, outpatient clinics, and hospitals where she has helped students and their parents heal from the aftermath of hazing. In her work with adults, teens, college students, and student-athletes, she has provided treatment for issues related to hazing, physical and sexual abuse, bullying, and abuse from athletic coaches. She is a member of the American Psychological Association.
Within the college and university setting, Dr. Stephen has previously held positions as an academic faculty member, a counselor, a consultant supervisor of a counseling center, a self defense instructor, and a residential life administrator. She continues to provide mental skills training for student-athletes and consults with athletic coaches to help them best support their athletes.
Currently, Dr. Stephen is a personal, career, and performance coach credentialed through the International Coaching Federation, a National Board Certified Health and Wellness Coach, and a member of both organizations. She specializes in helping mothers prepare themselves and their children for the risks and challenges of college life. Dr. Stephen has worked on the frontlines of trauma and has a unique understanding of what goes on behind the scenes on college campuses. She now uses this knowledge to provide informative and practical resources for those with college-bound children. She offers on-demand webinars, coaching, and concrete, customizable tools to support the health and wellness of college students.