Rites of Passage from Childhood to Adulthood

Throughout history, it seems every culture has established some form of rite of passage in which it is recognized that young men, and sometimes young girls, are passing from the state of childhood into the state of adulthood. It is usually characterized by some form of test or trial that the child must accomplish alone and is typically sufficiently dangerous or challenging enough to prove to the child that they are capable of taking care of him or herself. Once this challenge is met, the child is then able to return to their society and is now recognized as an adult, complete with adult responsibilities and adult respect. There are many examples of these types of rites within every society. While the importance of these rites of the passage seems undeniable thanks to their widespread prevalence throughout the world’s societies and throughout history, it has been argued that they are no longer necessary in today’s modern society.

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With time, children approach important changes in their life such as the onset of puberty. They reach a particular stage at which it is considered customary for young people to get married and start their families. In this situation, it is often difficult for young people to make the transition in their heads from thinking of themselves as the children of society to thinking of themselves as responsible adults. At the same time, it is difficult for parents and older relatives to begin thinking of the children as fully autonomous adults as well. The rite of passage symbolizes to both children and adults that the individual has reached an important turning point in their life that must be recognized by both parties if the individual is to become capable of taking on their new responsibilities. As has been mentioned, often the challenge of the rite can equally serve as a means of instilling confidence and assurance in the individual, forcing them to realize that they have no one left to rely on other than themselves and that they are capable of handling these challenges on their own. While they may have help as adults, it is an important element of growing up that one becomes more self-reliant. When they accomplish the task, they are able to stand tall and with pride, knowing that they can actually do it.

It has been argued that rites of passage are no longer necessary in today’s modern society. The law has established specific ages as the turning points of life, indicating that at age 18, individuals are ready to make their own decisions and can be considered to be adults. However, they are not adults enough yet to make the decision to drink alcoholic beverages, making this a sort of pseudo-adulthood in that they are adults, but not adults for another few years. At age 21, individuals are finally permitted to drink alcoholic beverages and are thus finally considered to be fully grown. Based on these arbitrary ages, society has indicated that these individuals are adults. Therefore, rites of passage are not necessary to help them transition from one role in society to another.

However, the psychological benefits of rites of passage go much deeper than the simple legal recognition of their majority. Before being given the opportunity to pass through the rite in society’s employing these celebrations, the individual must demonstrate that they are indeed ready to undertake the challenge – which is done on the part of the individual child through their accomplishments and interactions with others as well as determined by the assessment of the adults as they witness these accomplishments and interactions. If the child is 12 and capable and willing to take on an adult’s responsibilities, he might be given the opportunity to engage in the rite even though it is more commonly given to older children. By the same token, a child may prove unwilling or unable to fully reach a certain state of maturity by the time they’ve reached the usual age and be prevented from undertaking the rite until they have had a chance to reach greater maturity.

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