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 at the high school level and the college level. In fact, more than half of all college students involved in clubs, teams, and other organizations have experienced hazing at some point. Meanwhile, 47 percent of high school students have experienced hazing before they even enter college. The most common types of hazing that students experience include binge drinking, humiliation, isolation, sleep-deprivation, and sex acts.

The Subtle Differences Between Hazing and Bullying

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. But there are some subtle differences. 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. In addition to happening repeatedly or showing some sort of pattern, there also is a significant power imbalance. The bully has the power and control in the situation and the target does not.

Meanwhile, hazing is much like bullying but the goal 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 physically hurting victims, verbally assaulting them and even excluding or ostracizing them. Sometimes bullies use name-calling, slut-shaming, cyberbullying and even gossiping to hurt their victims.

Likewise, 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 tradition that someone must go through in order to gain membership or acceptance. For many, hazing is nothing more than an organized form of bullying.

What's more, 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 clique.

Typically, hazing occurs when kids are older such as 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 hazing.

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 discomfort.

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
  • Depriving victims of necessities such a sleep or food
  • Restricting personal hygiene
  • Forcing victims to eat vile substances or watch hours of pornography
  • Beating, whipping, restraining or gagging individuals
  • Forcing binge drinking or eating
  • Insisting victims engage in sexual acts
  • Branding the victim's skin in some way

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 it when they enter high school. Have follow up conversations about it before they leave for college. Talk about 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 hazing. Be sure your kids know that membership on a team or in an organization is never worth putting their life at risk. Do not gloss over the risks associated with hazing. Instead, use real-life examples of hazing incidents. Talk about the deaths and injuries that have resulted from hazing. And stress that participating in hazing rituals is just as wrong as being on the receiving end of the punishments.

Give them tools on how to deal with hazing. Knowing how to be assertive and self-confident is the first step toward heading off hazing. Be sure to 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 to your kids 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 Family

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. Also, 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.

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Article Sources
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  • "Hazing Statistics." Center for Student Involvement, University of Dayton. https://udayton.edu/studev/leadership/involvement/student-life/hazing/statistics.php

  • "National Hazing Study: Hazing in View." Stop Hazing. https://www.stophazing.org/hazing-view/