Coming of Age Rituals
The life cycle can be categorized into three different stages: childhood, adolescence, and adulthood. The period of adolescence, ages 13 to 22, include physical changes associated with puberty along with completing middle school, high school, and for some, college.
This stage of life involves major undertakings and the assumption of adult responsibility associated with them. In spite of this, in the United States we do not systematically celebrate or ritualize the transition from childhood to adolescence.
Granted, there are privileges to look forward to: driving, money management, working, going to college (for some), and legal drinking. However, there is no formal acknowledgement that things are changing in terms of relationships with family, friends, and social institutions.
For boys the coming-of-age usually occurs at age 12 or 13. For girls, the coming-of-age is usually celebrated at their first menstruation, which can be as early as 9 or as late as 15.
In other cultures, a ceremony; ritual; or celebration is held to ring in a time when a child becomes a young adult. It may include a tattoo, a trial, the piercing of a body part, or a period of isolation.
A Quinceañera, for example, is celebrated in the Mexican culture when a girl turns fifteen. It is a social introduction and dates back to the Aztec and Mayan times, somewhere around 500 B.C.
Similarly, Native Americans have many variations of the coming-of-age ritual, depending on the tribe. For the most part, girls have their rite of passage with the first menses and boys have theirs at the age of fourteen or fifteen. Both boys and girls are separated from the tribe to spend several days alone fasting.
The hunger teaches the child patience and discipline. The isolation allows the child to stay completely focused on their goal, which is to have a dream or vision. This could take anywhere from four to fourteen days.
Girls stay in a wigwam made by their mothers away from the tribe, and after their vision, return to a feast. They are welcomed back with someone saying, "You left as a girl; you return as a woman. We sorrowed when you departed, leaving behind a girl we had grown to love. We rejoice at your return, new and different. Through you, the people will live."
Today in the United States, boys do not usually mark the transition. For girls, periods are kept very private and rarely spoken about, unless the family welcomes womanhood with a special gift, meal, or celebration.
When you celebrate a coming-of-age, you are acknowledging: the shift in the relationship between parent and child, the ties between friends, and the path the person will take as an adult.
Many teens start assuming many of the responsibilities their parents had for the first 12 years. Parents may begin to shift some of the money management decisions to the teen.
Some will ask teens to do more chores around the house, including helping with laundry and cooking. Some teens begin to make their own doctors appointments, and most become responsible for their own homework and time management.
Relationships with peers change as well. Friendships may change less frequently than they did in middle school. Interests are solidified and friends are important emotional supporters and social allies. Teens spend much of their free time with their friends, and those friends influence many of their decisions about participation in church, clubs, sports, and other social activities.
Another important part of adolescence is choosing a life path. Sometimes this means deciding to put all free time into one sport, music, dance, or other hobby; starting to prepare for college applications; doing more community service; or learning about careers that may interest them.
No matter what their focus will be, teens begin to spend more time away from home. You can design a ritual that focuses on both the joy of the childhood they have experienced and the beginning of the transition into adulthood.
Developing a ritual opens the conversation about how relationships and people will change in the coming years. Not everything happens at once, but there is a definite change beginning – one that teens may feel insecure about but families can embrace it instead of dread.
Disclaimer: This content is the opinion of the author(s) and not necessarily that of your health care provider, the Palo Alto Medical Clinic, the Palo Alto Medical Foundation, or Sutter Health.
This information is provided for your general information and education only, and should not be relied upon for personal diagnosis or treatment.
If you feel like you have an illness or need emotional support for a problem, please contact your personal physician NOW.
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