Bullying and Hazing Differences

Exploring the connections between bullying and hazing

red solo cups and ping pong balls

Hazing has become a huge issue both in high school and at the college level. In fact, over a quarter of all college students involved in clubs, teams, and other organizations have experienced hazing at some point.

Meanwhile, 47% of high school students have experienced hazing before they even enter college. The most common types of hazing that students experience involve binge drinking, verbal abuse, humiliation, isolation, and sleep deprivation.

Effects of Bullying and Hazing

When it comes to bullying and hazing, the same power differences and intimidation factors exist in both. In fact, many people would argue that hazing is a form of bullying. Both behaviors involve a significant power imbalance, meaning the perpetrator has the power and control in the situation while the target does not. But there are some subtle differences between hazing and bullying.

For instance, bullying is an act of aggression by an individual or a group of individuals with the goal of intentionally hurting the victim in some way. Hazing often hurts the target too, but harm isn't the main purpose. The goal of hazing is to initiate the target into an exclusive group, while bullying is designed to keep the victim out of the group.

Hazing is a ritual with the belief that it will bring the members closer together, but bullying is about ostracizing people and excluding them in some way.

Forms of bullying can include everything from ostracizing victims, verbally harassing them, and even physically assaulting them. Bullies may use name-calling, slut-shaming, cyberbullying, and gossiping to hurt their victims.

Hazing may involve some of those same tactics and is often designed to produce mental or physical discomfort, embarrassment, humiliation, and ridicule just like bullying. But the people hazing others are all part of the same group or club. They justify their actions by calling it a ritual or a tradition that someone must go through in order to gain membership or acceptance. For many, though, hazing is nothing more than an organized form of bullying.

Unlike hazing, bullying is never about inclusion but always about exclusion in some way. Second, people who haze others almost always function as a group or a team, but bullies often act alone or as a small clique.

Typically, hazing occurs when kids are older, perhaps in high school or college, while bullying starts at a much younger age. And unlike bullying, hazing is sometimes viewed as socially acceptable, even though it should not be. There is never a justifiable reason for hurting others.

Key Differences

  • Bullying involves a power imbalance and is an act designed to cause harm. 
  • Hazing is a ritual of inclusion that may involve mental or physical maltreatment.

Forms of Hazing

Hazing can take many different forms. The most common ways in which people haze others is by:

  • Swearing or yelling insults at victims
  • Assigning embarrassing tasks for victims, like wearing a costume in public
  • Banning victims from associating with certain people
  • Depriving victims of necessities such as sleep or food
  • Forcing victims to binge drink or participate in drinking games
  • Making victims act as a personal servant to older group members

How to Prevent Hazing

There is no denying that hazing is dangerous, possibly illegal, and even deadly at times. With so much for your kids to lose, preventing hazing is a necessity for all parents. Here are four ways parents can prevent hazing.

  • Start early. Just like bullying prevention, it is important for parents to address hazing issues while their kids are young. Start before they enter middle school and continue talking about hazing when they enter high school. Have follow-up conversations about it before they leave for college by discussing the dangers of joining a group that requires them to do something against their will or that violates their personal values or beliefs.
  • Talk about the risks. Be sure your kids know that membership on a team or in an organization is never worth putting their life at risk. Don't gloss over the risks associated with hazing. Instead, use real-life examples of hazing incidents and talk about the deaths and injuries that have resulted from hazing. Stress that hazing is wrong even if the person "agrees" to participate, since that agreement is often coerced through the threat of punishment or exclusion.
  • Give them tools to deal with hazing. Knowing how to be assertive and self-confident is the first step toward heading off hazing. Instill these qualities in your child and talk about ways in which they could effectively handle hazing situations. Remind them that they can always say no to what is requested of them. No group membership is worth sacrificing their values or their safety.
  • Teach your child how to identify healthy groups. Stress that anytime someone asks them to compromise who they are in order to be part of the group, this is probably not a group they want to join. Be sure your kids also know the qualities of healthy friendships and how to set boundaries. This knowledge will go a long way in helping to prevent hazing incidents later on in life.

A Word From Verywell

As your kids prepare for high school and college, be sure you have several conversations about hazing and the risks involved. Continue to talk about it, especially if they intend to join a sorority, fraternity, or other group known for hazing rituals.

Also recognize that hazing is not limited to Greek organizations. A number of athletic teams, marching bands, and other organizations include hazing as part of their initiation too. Never assume that your child will know how to handle these situations. Instead, take the time to have a conversation about hazing. You will be glad you did.

3 Sources
Verywell Family uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Allan E, Kerschner D, Payne JM. College student hazing experiences, attitudes, and perceptions: implications for prevention. J Student Aff Res Pract. 2018;56(2):1-17. doi:10.1080/19496591.2018.1490303

  2. Jan MSA, Husain S. Bullying in elementary schools: its causes and effects on students. J Edu Pract. 2015;6(19):43-57.

  3. Allan EJ, Madden M. The nature and extent of college student hazing. Int J Adolesc Med Health. 2012;24(1):83-90. doi:10.1515/ijamh.2012.012

By Sherri Gordon
Sherri Gordon, CLC is a published author, certified professional life coach, and bullying prevention expert.