Recently a group of high school cheerleaders in Ogden, UT made national news when they were suspended for dousing a blindfolded group of incoming cheerleaders with ketchup, mustard, pickle juice and peanut butter.
This harmless prank, however, turned horrendous when it was discovered that one of the newbies was allergic to peanut butter. Although the young lady suffered only a mild reaction which was swiftly treated, the incident generated enough concern to get nine seniors suspended.
Police are still deciding whether the minors will be charged with a crime. The parents of the offended few have opted not to take any action.
The act of initiating new members into a group, club, or team is certainly centuries old. Over the last couple of decades however, the practice of exposing newbies to unpleasantries (the very definition of hazing) has come under fire due to the associated humiliation, injuries, and unfortunate deaths of some initiates.
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The practice is most often associated with college and university organizations particularly fraternities and sororities.
Guidelines for the majority if not all fraternity and sororities clearly ban the practice although it continues to exist. States have passed laws forbidding the practice as a result of the untoward incidents that have resulted.
Who would have thought that peanut butter would be considered a weapon? Someone highly allergic I suppose.
The question of whether an act can be considered hazing is not so clear. In this most recent incident, the new initiates were asked to do push-ups and other exercises.
They were originally told they were to partake in a celebratory pizza party. After they were blind-folded and told to follow directions, they were surrounded by a large group of on lookers reportedly primarily males while they were doused with condiments.
Who is to say the girls found this situation unpleasant? It could be argued that these talented teens actually reveled in the attention. The decision of charges however, is not to be left in their hands. Clearly the organizers of the prank were guilty of stupidity.
After all peanuts are not an uncommon allergy. All the same, should the question of charges rest on the outcome, or the intent? If the girls are charged what message are they being sent and at what cost?
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It is understandable that any act that would obviously put an initiate potentially in harm’s way should be banned, but where is the line, is there a line? Should we ban the dunking booth at the local carnival?
Teens are particularly vulnerable to embarrassment and shame. Their brains are wired to be egocentric which often results in beliefs that the whole world is always watching them.
Certainly no one especially a vulnerable teen should be forced to participate in an initiation activity.
If however, an initiate is given an opportunity to opt out but chooses to stay, would what followed still be considered hazing? Not an easy question to answer, what are your thoughts?
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Jennifer Powell-Lunder and Barbara Greenberg are authors of the hit book, "Teenage as a Second Language: A Parent's Guide to Becoming Bilingual." They've set up an interactive website for parents and teens to listen, learn and discuss hot topics and daily dilemmas. You can find it at www.talkingteenage.com.