THE desire to belong, to be accepted, is a dominant emotion among high school students. It can have a positive side, with kids joining sports teams or arts clubs. Or that desire can be abused by those involved in such groups.
One type of abuse is hazing. A recent study by researchers at Alfred University in New York found that nearly half of the 1,500 high school students surveyed said they'd experienced hazing.
At its mildest, this could mean verbal abuse or bullying. At its worst, hazing descends into sexual attacks, physical beatings, or coerced consumption of alcohol. While many of the kids in the survey said they went along with the hazing because it was "fun or exciting," many remained angry - to a degree that interfered with other activities, like school work.
This problem deserves attention from school officials and parents. Hazing reinforces the cliquishness and alienation that often underlie outbreaks of violence in schools. Hazing is sometimes justified as a bonding ritual, but bonds thus formed are likely to be at odds with the supportive community schools want to be.
Some principals are trying to head off hazing by recruiting upperclassmen to help freshmen get acquainted with high school. And many schools are trying to enforce existing antihazing policies. But such efforts can run into teenagers' code of silence. Much hazing goes unreported.
A change of culture is needed, with "belonging" or "acceptance" denoting not the endurance of abuse, but mutual respect and support.
(c) Copyright 2000. The Christian Science Publishing Society