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Rituals and Rites of Passage: 

Coming of Age in Today's Society

The first 13 years of your child's life fly by. Information on the many milestones that will be met in those early years is abundant keeping parents well educated and feeling "in the know." Unfortunately, as children draw closer to adolescence, the gush of advice on what to expect and how to prepare slows to a trickle. As a result, many parents feel as lost and disoriented as their child during the coming-of-age years. The transition from childhood to young adulthood is seldom an easy one for either parent or child. Without a formalized event to mark this important transition, a grey area exists across the early to late teen years. Questions about what to expect and when can add to the tension between parent and child as one wonders when the other will either take on extra responsibilities or let go of control.

Historically, some cultures have used coming-of-age rituals to officially mark the transition to adulthood as well as the change in expectations and privileges. Examples of such ceremonies include the Hispanic Quinceanera, where girls spend months before their 15th birthday preparing to enter womanhood, which is a transition that is officially acknowledged during a grand fiesta (referred to as the Quinceañera). Traditionally, Native American cultures would isolate young girls from the tribe for four days when they had their first period. When they returned to the community they would be introduced as women. Similar rituals existed for boys and included vision quests, tattooing and hunting or surviving the wild for a number of days. Presently, the Jewish religion has the Bat and Bar Mitzvah ceremony, where 13-year-old girls and boys become accountable for their own actions (until then, the parent is considered responsible). For the most part, the general American culture is all but devoid of these types of initiations, which offer both young and the old a defining of one's maturity. Michael Griffin, LPC, is an owner and therapist at Evoke Therapy where teens and young adults can attend wilderness therapy programs. Griffin believes coming-of-age initiations and rites of passage are exceptionally important. "Our modern culture is information rich but knowledge poor," he says. "We are losing touch with rituals and ceremonies and when we lose those they come to us anyway and in the form of things like divorce and addiction." According to Griffin, coming-of-age ceremonies help youth learn how to value struggle and honor difficulty instead of trying to fix it or maneuver around it. "An initiation is about being able to face your trial," he says. "As an adult, you are going to have to know how to struggle. Coming-of-age rituals are rites of passage that bring the beauty back into the struggle."

Creating Your Own Ritual

If your family doesn't belong to a culture or religion that has a set coming-of-age ritual for you to perform with your children, you can create your own. To begin, you should decide on the appropriate time frame for your event. The coming-of-age years are somewhat vague but are generally considered to take place between the ages of 12 to 18. When choosing an age and date for your child's experience, consider what your expectations will be once the ceremony is done. What new privileges will your child have? What extra responsibilities will they be expected to take on? How will you help them find success in their new role? These are all things to consider and map out clearly in advance. The following are some good starting points for creating your family ritual: Take your child on a rugged, unplugged outdoor expedition. This could be a back packing trip or a barebones tent camping excursion that gives them the opportunity to work to survive the wild and gives you the opportunity to share your knowledge. Plan a long road trip and let them drive! This can happen as soon as they receive their permit. Have them help map out the route, earn money for lodging, plan the packing list and prepare the vehicle. You'll have plenty of opportunity to provide them with adult wisdom on the road. Find a project or a challenge that they must perform or conquer on their own. Think building a structure, hunting or an overnight campout. Seal your family coming-of-age ritual with a symbolic action. Have them give a treasured childhood belonging to a younger sibling or hand off a meaningful object of adulthood in your possession. Whatever you do, remember you are doing it together. The ceremony is a rite of passage for both parent and child as you enter into a new kind of relationship with one another; one that will be treasured for the rest of your lives.


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