Awesome Parents Blogs

Initiation and the Teenager

In pre-industrial cultures, the transition from childhood to adulthood was accomplished in a short time span, and often accompanied by a decisive ceremony, such as the Jewish Bar Mitzvah. Nelson Mandela describes in painful detail the day, at sixteen, when he was accepted into adulthood in a traditional ceremony of circumcision. Each boy is trained to cry out, at the very moment of circumcision, ‘Ndiyindoda!’ which means, ‘I am a man!’. The ceremony, over several days, takes place in an isolated place, where special lodges had been constructed to house the 26 young men being initiated at the same time.

image 11 Initiation and the TeenagerMandela writes: ‘I had now taken the essential step in the life of every Xhosa man. Now I might marry, set up my own home and plough my own field. I could now be admitted to the councils of the community: my words would be taken seriously … At the end of our seclusion, the lodges and all their contents were burned, destroying our last links to childhood, and a great ceremony was held to welcome us as men to society…’

Western society has for the most part lost the remnants of such initiation rites, and has both extended and blurred the gap between childhood and adulthood. The phrase Adolescent was first coined in 1905 by G Stanley Hall, and by the 1950′s the concept of the ‘teenager’ had arrived; a half-child, half-adult creature who hovers uncertainly between dependence and acceptance, and for whom the transition will last for anything from six years upwards. All the signs are that adolescence is getting longer, as children enter the phase sooner, and wait longer, by choice or default, to settle into stable relationships and fixed economic activity.

In this sense it seems fair to describe adolescence as an artificial extension of the initiation process: thus there is work to do in helping young people and parents through it, and in applying Biblical wisdom. The emotional needs of the child are the same as they might be were the initiation process condensed into a short ceremony. Adolescents stand caught between memories of the childhood they now know to be over and prospects of an adulthood in which they have not yet tested out their skills.

They need:

  • To know that they belong and are loved, and that the family that has nurtured them to date will still be there for them: not casting them out but helping them to move on.
  • To know that there is a place for them in the adult society into which they are being initiated.

At the end of a seminar, a nineteen year old took issue with the presenter for saying teenagers were not adults. She was angry and hurt and asked how dare they make such a statement when she felt strongly that she was in every way an adult and challenged the concept being put forward that teenagers were still children.

When do you think your child became / will become an adult?

Leave a Reply

  • Categories

  • Archives

  • Recent Posts

  • Tags