Rites of passage : celebrating the dreaded teenage years
01 August 2017
The surly teenage years can be a bit of a roller coaster for all involved but perhaps we should take note from others and celebrate it rather than dreading the whole transition? All over the world different cultures and countries celebrate coming of age as important stepping stones in their adolescents’ lives. In some societies it is linked with the onset of sexual maturity; with others it is associated with religious responsibility, and in western cultures it is more often connected to legal conventions.
On the face of it, some coming of age celebrations really aren’t that pleasant: Global Citizen describes the Bullet and Ant Initiation in the Sateré-Mawé tribe in the Brazilian Amazon. The 13 year olds search the jungle for bullet ants which are sedated by a leader who submerges them in an herbal solution. The ants are then weaved into gloves with the stingers pointed inwards. An hour or so later, the ants wake up angrier than ever, and the initiation begins. Each boy has to wear the gloves for ten minutes, and they can’t show signs of suffering as that would dishonour their family!
In Kenya and Tanzania, boys aged 10 – 20 undergo initiation to become the new “warrior class” of their Maasai tribe. The night before the ceremony they sleep outside in the forest, and at dawn they return and drink a mixture of alcohol, cow’s blood and milk, as well as consuming large portions of meat. After these festivities they are ready to be circumcised, making the official transformation into a man, warrior, and protector. Whereas according to Global Citizen, young men growing up in Ethiopia have to prove their courage and agility with a test they must complete before they marry. It involves successfully jumping over a male cow four times whilst naked – symbolising the childhood they are leaving behind them.
Youngsters growing up in the Amish tradition undergo a gentler rite of passage. Rumspringa involves allowing 16 year olds to enjoy unsupervised weekends away from their families. During this time they’re encouraged to try wearing modern clothes and drinking alcohol. Those that choose to return to the community become baptized and fully committed members of the Amish church and community.
The 16th birthday is becoming a big event over the pond (who remembers ‘Pretty in Pink’?). It may be less rooted in tradition, but The Prom marks the time when American teenagers are legally permitted to drive a car.
It seems we’re also adopting this back in Britain, as Lauren Cochrane writes “It used to be the stuff of Hollywood films, but prom is now an unmissable end-of-school celebration for many British teenagers.” And if you’re worried about the cost, well, recent data shows teens whose parents communicate about and celebrate important transitions tend to have excellent interactions which help teens navigate through those tricky years. A Teens Today report revealed that “high school teens whose parents pay the least attention to significant transition periods (45%) such as puberty, school change, and key birthdays are more likely than teens whose parents pay the most attention (81%) to engage in high-risk behaviours, including drinking, drug use, early sexual intercourse, and dangerous driving.” In which case, that is money well spent!
Others in the West believe that we should do more to reintroduce rites of passage and ceremonial honouring of our girls as they enter womanhood in order to help them mature into confident, empowered women. Hemitra Crecraft writes “As parents, it can be difficult to accept that our daughters are growing up… For this reason, the transition into puberty is often more challenging for parents than girls. This awkwardness naturally gets projected onto our daughters and can have a deleterious influence on their self-esteem. .. As parents, we need to be accepting and encouraging of the changes that their bodies are going through… Girls should be made to feel like princesses when they become women!”
Perhaps we should take a leaf out of the Jewish tradition? Boys and girls celebrate their Bar and Bat Mitzvahs worldwide at age 13 and 12 in order to demonstrate their commitment to their faith and recognise that they are now responsible for following Jewish law. As well as a religious ceremony and party they celebrate their young person’s hard work and accomplishment. [For details of our Bar/Bat Mitzvah package check out https://merlinvenues.com/merlin-venue/bar-mitzvahs-and-bat-miztvahs-at-madame-tussauds/]
No matter how you celebrate the pivotal point in your teen’s life, the most important thing is that you do it. And do it with style. As Dr Seuss said “Sometimes you will never know the value of a moment until it becomes a memory.” Do you remember celebrating your coming of age?