Rites of passage for coming of age found around the globe. So what’s going on in America?
When you hear the phrase “coming-of-age ritual,” what comes to mind? Do you conjure up images of a young Massai warrior heading off into the bush to live off the land and kill a lion with a spear? Or someone in the Australian outback doing a walkabout? Or a young Inuit learning critical Arctic survival skills? Perhaps you picture a bar mitzvah or bat mitzvah in the Jewish tradition?
It’s pretty easy to find examples of fascinating rituals created by societies in every corner of the globe and throughout human history. (The Sateré-Mawé tribe’s ritual involves placing stinging ant gloves on a young warrior’s hands – yeah, that really happens!) So clearly, humans have understood that the coming-of-age celebration when a young person transitions to adulthood is a vital moment to teach young people the skills they’ll need to survive and contribute to society and to emphasize what is expected of them as an adult.
And yet, here in the United States we don’t have a common way we approach coming of age, despite how desperately our children need wisdom, support and guidance on the path to adulthood. Does an American youth learn what it means to become an adult when he or she gets her first smartphone? When he successfully attains a driver’s license? When she graduates from high school?
It’s true, most modern American youth don’t need to learn survival and subsistence skills like many ancient societies – few of us have ever faced the threat of being hunted by a wild animal or needed to distinguish poisonous plants from edible ones. Nonetheless, our youth face challenges in the transition to adulthood that create confusion, anxiety, and ‘failure to launch.’ Our children feel the same yearning to understand what helps us become competent and capable adults that kids over countless generations of humans have experienced.
As parents, we all try to raise our children the best that we can. We don’t expect our kids to know how to drive a car, solve a math problem, or cook a meal without teaching them, so why would we expect them to know and understand the skills and values we believe they will need to become successful, independent, and resilient adults?
It’s certainly not the entire answer, but one way we can provide our children with the support and guidance they need for a successful transition to adulthood is to mark the beginning of that transition with a thoughtful, intentional, and memorable coming-of-age event that emphasizes important life lessons for our modern times.
In our next blog we’ll discuss how a coming-of-age event benefits youth, families, and the entire community. Stay tuned!