Bullying or Rites of Passage? Every gender has its rites of passage, but is it tradition passed down through gender or is it bullying to force and encourage a system of beliefs and behaviors generation to generation that happens to align itself across gender lines? Consider a local case in Sayreville, NJ. where senior members of the high school football team systematically and historically used "hazing" as a rites of passage for younger members to prove their allegiance and loyalty to the team. It is alleged that multiple football players across multiple seasons used physical punishment, illicit substances and "bully behavior" to coerce and control younger members of the team.
Some may say that hazing and bullying are rites of passage for football players and in high school and college life. This writer can certainly understand how easy it is to dismiss these behaviors as adolescent and young adults "finding themselves", after all, I am in a sorority and my husband is in fraternity and played football in college as well (frat, football, military and all other haze happy organizations that you can think of). However, I have noticed that across demographic and activity, bullying and hazing behavior is typically associated with some form of substance use (more on this later) and/or ritual.
Bullying and hazing is also not limited to the football field, high school and college life; we also see bullies rear their ugly heads in gang life as they recruit new initiates, in work life as they indoctrinate new employees and even in kindergarten when new kids are forced to leave the playground (yes, that actually does happen).
As parents and the elders in our communities and in our homes, what can we do? Pay attention, ask questions, go deeper. You are your child's first life of defense in keeping balanced in our world. As parents we need to pay attention to our children's body language and behavior, are they sleeping more or less? Are they excited to go to practice and school? Are they isolating? Are there new people in their lives? Do you know who their friends are and what they did today? Are you at practice and games to see what is going on and who they are associated with? Do you know trauma when you see it?
And let us not forget the broader community, what is their/our responsibility? And what of compassion? Are we so callous as a society that we are quick to dismiss the pain and suffering of others so that we can go back to "business as usual"? How do we respond when it is "someone else's child"? In recognizing the interconnectedness that is the human experience, we realize that it may be someone else's problem today, but tomorrow it will be our problem as we live in a time where children that are bullied become bullies and harm others via school shootings and "bullycide".
So let us talk to our kids and figure out what is going on their lives. Open ended questions asked daily will lead you to the rich internal world of your child so that you can help THEM address issues before they become problems. When children feel safe, empowered and affirmed, they become their best selves.
Do you feel that the children in your life deserve to be their best?