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Teens are having scavenger hunts with sexual activity, drugs, and alcohol — and they're a big problem

Elise Solé

A sorority has been kicked off of a Pennsylvania college campus for a “reprehensible” scavenger hunt fueled by sex, drugs, and alcohol.

According to Lehigh University’s Greek Community blog, Alpha Chi Omega’s Theta Chi chapter was suspended by the school and lost its recognition for a two-year period for a December scavenger hunt that involved “morally questionable quests” involving “the use of drugs and alcohol, sexual activity and other activities.”

High school and college students are participating in dangerous scavenger hunts. (Photo: Getty Images)

“This incident was a significant, reprehensible event that the entire chapter was aware of and leadership endorsed,” the blog read in part. “This event did not only take place this year, but there is credible information that this event has been going on for years. The panel is deeply concerned about the escalated nature of the content of this year’s list and we are unconvinced that this escalation wouldn’t continue.”

A representative from Lehigh University sent the following statement to Yahoo Lifestyle:

“Lehigh University expects all students to uphold community standards and act in a manner that reflects the university’s Code of Conduct. Violations of these expectations, which are in place to foster a safe, respectful environment for all members of the Lehigh community, will result in consequences.

“The scavenger hunt held by the Theta Chi chapter of Alpha Chi Omega Sorority at Lehigh University involved the use of drugs and alcohol, sexual activity, and other activities which failed to meet these standards.

“Like many institutions nationwide, Lehigh University works tirelessly to address hazing and safety among Greek organizations. This is a pervasive issue on college campuses across the country and though unfortunate, when circumstances like this arise, it is an opportunity to reaffirm our expectations and address the issues in effective ways.”

These illegal scavenger hunts are not limited to Lehigh. In 2016, a scavenger hunt at Michigan State University’s Sigma Nu fraternity was investigated after a student found a hunt list that demanded a photo of a participant being kissed by a set of twins, playing “Chinese fire drill” in a busy area, obtaining door codes to sorority houses, and taking a photo in a women’s restroom.

The problem even persists on a high school level — in May, students at Farmingdale High School on Long Island, N.Y., participated in a dangerous hunt consisting of reckless driving, girls running outside wearing thong underwear, and drinking beer. Local news site Patch also reported that some of the tasks included eating a worm, simulating a sex act on a cucumber, eating a stick of butter, kissing an adult and a stranger, and hitting “a teammate in the face with a tuna fish.” There were also points for breaking a car windshield, knocking on someone’s door naked, and taking five shots in 10 seconds.

In the San Francisco Bay Area, a mass scavenger hunt in 2016 involving students from Saint Joseph Notre Dame High School in Alameda and other neighboring Catholic schools required players to film themselves engaging in dangerous activities — which included playing with explosives — and posting the footage online.

Even as far back as 2002, reported the Smoking Gun, the annual scavenger hunt at Newton South High School in Massachusetts offered points for shaving off one’s eyebrows, getting male students to hook up with each other, vandalism, theft, and marijuana possession.

“Developmentally, the brains of children and teens are not wired to think ahead to consequences. So, for example, while one may think it’s gross to eat a worm, they may not actually consider what it means in terms of their health,” Tiffany Sanders, a licensed psychologist and certified school psychologist, tells Yahoo Lifestyle, adding that many teens are still developing a sense of empathy, which, combined with pressure to fit in, results in unsafe or downright mean pranks.

While scavenger hunts are often part of the initiation process into college Greek life, the reasons for ones on the high school level are less clear — although Sanders notes that they could be an extension of traditions such as “Senior Ditch Day,” whereby students collectively skip classes for the day, with or without their school’s approval. “It’s possible that these dangerous scavenger hunts have loosely evolved from these types of customs,” she says.

Ironically, the purpose of a scavenger hunt is one of learning, in which players collect clues leading to a certain discovery. “However, in cases where the hunts are sexualized, illegal, or involve proving one’s worth through degradation, there’s seemingly little payoff,” says Sanders.

And according to Joanne Broder Sumerson, a research psychologist and affiliate professor at Saint Joseph’s University in Philadelphia, social media and tech plays a large role in scavenger hunts, requiring players to share footage as evidence of their participation, making the hunts more extravagant and dangerous. “Scavenger hunts are a timeless school tradition, but only recently the ability to record them has offered many opportunities for kids to be mean,” she tells Yahoo Lifestyle. 

Often, the games are played off-campus, preventing schools from banning them, notes Sanders. “And given how creative scavenger hunts have become, it might be hard to anticipate every wild step of the game.”

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