How Do You Raise Adults In an Infantilizing Culture? Practical Ideas.
It’s no secret that young people in our culture are growing up later than ever. The life transitions into adulthood, such as being financially independent and getting married, now often happen in the early 30s, if at all. In many ways, 30 is the new 20. As a result, childish thinking and behaviors often carry into (what should be) adulthood.
There are undoubtedly a number of reasons for the perpetuation of adolescence, and certainly different ways to address it. But there is one that seems to be overlooked: We lack meaningful rituals to mark the transition into adulthood.
Throughout the world, there are many “coming of age” traditions that encourage young people to grow up and leave adolescence behind. For instance, at 13, the Sateré Mawé tribe marks the coming of age with the Bullet and Ant initiation. And also at 13, young Jewish boys experience the Bar Mitzvah to demonstrate their commitment to the faith.
But what do we do in America for boys to become men? Nothing meaningful, that I can think of.
My son turns 13 this Wednesday, so this has been on my mind. And I decided to invent my own coming of age weekend to help encourage him to start growing up and think about what it means to become a man. Here is a brief list of what we did:
FRIDAY NIGHT: We watched his first “R” movie… Braveheart, of course (fast-forwarding the sexual scenes and more gruesome parts).
SATURDAY MORNING: I took him and his two cousins to shoot his first guns at an indoor shooting range in Huntington Beach. We took a two-hour class on gun safety and then got to shoot pistols for an hour.
SATURDAY AFTERNOON: On the way home, I pulled into a large empty parking lot and let him drive for the first time.
SATURDAY EARLY EVENING: We had family and our closest friends come over for dinner and then had a sharing time with my son. I asked each of the key men in his life (i.e., teachers, uncles, coaches, etc.) to share a 2-3 minute life story or principle about becoming a man. Men shared about being positive, building character, handling failure, doing the right things, trusting God, gentleness, and being generous. And then I played a video, which a friend helped me put together, with comments from other important men in his life who could not be present.
I based my opening comments on 1 Corinthians 13:11: “When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I gave up childish ways.” I made two main points. First, growing up means taking responsibility for your own life choices. Privileges increase as you get older, but this also means taking responsibility for your own choices and using wisdom. As Ben Parker said, “With power comes great responsibility.”
Second, being a man means treating women with dignity and respect. Whether a mother, sister, or a date, being a man involves caring for women. Some of the last words Jesus spoke on the cross were for his disciple John to care for his mother when he was gone.
We then had a gift-sharing time. I tried to think of gifts that somehow mark the transition into manhood. So, I gave him an electric shaver and a book my father wrote for my sister and me when I was twelve called, Love, Dad: Positive Answers for Young Teens on Handling Sexual Pressure.
There are many other things we could have done, but overall I think this was both powerful and memorable for my son. I look forward to planning a coming of age experience for my daughter.
Feel free to borrow any of these ideas. Or come up with your own. Regardless, I would certainly encourage you to think through coming of age rituals for the young people in your life. It is one important step to helping them grow up and become men and women.
Sean McDowell, Ph.D. is a professor of Christian Apologetics at Biola University, best-selling author, popular speaker, part-time high school teacher, and the Resident Scholar for Summit Ministries, California. Follow him on Twitter: @sean_mcdowell and his blog: seanmcdowell.org.